OPINION: David Shearer departs the Labour leadership with almost as many nice-guy credentials as he had when entered. That is an achievement of sorts, but perhaps easier to achieve the further one is kept from real power.
There was no letter, there was no ultimatum, there was no vote. What there was, though, was a dread sense of inevitability.
For all the considerable personal bravery Mr Shearer has shown in his earlier vocation in international aid development, he has lacked the combative talents so important in political leadership.
For any party to gain power, public perception of the people behind the policies is crucial. In this respect, John Key's persona has been a huge asset for the Government.
But it is telling that all the knocks it has taken through asset sales and civil rights, concerns have really come from assailants other than Mr Shearer, who has seldom seemed more than a voice among the chorus of discontent, and far from one of the more compelling ones at that.
Perhaps befitting a man with such strong humanitarian credentials, he neither wielded a sabre effectively, nor even rattled it plausibly.
The more ostensibly high-minded path to power - energising people with his own vision - wasn't getting him anywhere much either.
Big policy initiatives such as KiwiBuild and NZPower hadn't had the electoral impact Labour sorely needed and even public outrage at the GCSB stickybeaking laws was failing to transform into support for Labour - possibly because it already had most of those voters.
As he stepped down, Mr Shearer acknowledged he had not generated the needed lift in the polls.
And seriously, if he couldn't get traction lately, then it's hard to see under what conditions he could. Certainly not an election.
Perhaps a different sort of politician might have pulled off a stunt such as he tried in the House this week, brandishing two dead snapper, though we have our doubts. It was always going to be a gimmick that invited much more damaging mockery than it was ever likely to dispense.
In any case, it was a spectacularly ill-suited to a politician whom no-one would call naturally flamboyant. The overriding impression was of desperation born from a paucity of other ideas.
Labour will be rudderless for a time, seemingly weeks, before a new leader emerges. David Cunliffe has support from the party rank-and-file, and perhaps the union bloc, but much less so from his own caucus. Grant Robertson, Mr Shearer's deputy, would be a more palatable choice for his colleagues, though his public image is far from striking.
Labour needs to choose carefully. One question, however, will be whether the process in place will allow for that.
Labour's rules give the party 40 per cent of the vote, the caucus 40, and affiliates including unions 20 per cent. Whoever wins, National will have the agreeable prospect of finding ways to scorn the route taken to victory. But then, if Mr Shearer's step-down has shown us anything, it's that the new leader, whoever it is, will have to be much more predisposed to the dynamics of a good stoush.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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