Lack of timing and nous

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2013

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OPINION: David Shearer always faced two big hurdles - inexperience and a divided caucus.

He was catapulted into the leadership too soon and for all the wrong reasons - a straw grasped by MPs desperate to head off finance spokesman David Cunliffe.

But he was also the wrong candidate for the times, his candidacy backed by the likes of Phil Goff, Annette King, Shane Jones, Clayton Cosgrove and others seen as falling on the socially conservative side of the party.

His job was to hold Labour's course on the political centre ground. But a newly rejuvenated Left-wing faction within the party is determinedly steering a course in the opposite direction.

The inability of the caucus, and even the wider party, to unite behind a rival candidate meant even that might have been survivable - had it not also been for Mr Shearer's glaringly obvious lack of political nous.

It became increasingly painful to watch him blunder through a succession of gaffes and he appeared incapable of articulating a vision for the party.

Labour now faces another big gamble. Deputy Grant Robertson is the front-runner - but Labour would be taking a leap of faith that New Zealand is ready for its first gay prime minister.

That may not be Mr Robertson's biggest obstacle, however. The former diplomat and political operative is also the ultimate Wellington insider.

National will milk that for political capital.

But the big question for Labour now is whether it is already too late.

The answer is probably not - but only if Labour can present a united front. The last thing it needs is another bloody leadership contest.

If Mr Robertson and Mr Cunliffe aren't already talking about doing a deal, they should be.

The alternative is probably three more years in opposition.

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