Drumbeat for Shearer to go, says Labour local
ALEXIA JOHNSTON AND FAIRFAX MEDIA
David Shearer's decision to quit his role as leader of the Labour Party has come as no surprise to former Rangitata Labour candidate Julian Blanchard.
Mr Shearer stepped aside yesterday, saying he did not think he had the support of his full caucus.
Mr Blanchard said "the drums were beating" for some time regarding change within the party and he believed the time was right to make that move.
"The Government is giving Labour plenty of ammunition to go with, but I don't think Labour, and in particular David Shearer, had been making the most of what the Government was doing.
"I guess the caucus MPs have expressed that and David now feels that [it is] the best time to stand down."
The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment (GCSB) Bill was possibly his last chance to stand up and prove he could make changes as a leader, Mr Blanchard said.
The timing of his move means the party can now hold its conference in November with a new leader. Mr Blanchard believes there are three people capable of taking the reins: former leadership hopeful David Cunliffe, Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson and MP Andrew Little.
"I would imagine it would be one of those three. I can't see anyone else . . . taking over," he said.
Mr Blanchard hoped the new leader would make a bigger effort to visit the regions, something Mr Shearer struggled to do, particularly to South Canterbury.
"We've only seen him in our region once since becoming leader of the party."
RACE TO REPLACE SHEARER BEGINS
Labour leadership favourite Grant Robertson's strongest challenge is likely to come from David Cunliffe, after David Shearer stepped aside yesterday, saying he no longer had the confidence of many in his caucus.
Robertson emerged as the frontrunner, though picking him could be a big punt for Labour. He would be its first gay leader and is seen as a Wellington "insider".
Moves had started last night to avoid a messy leadership contest, but the wider party may push for a contest that would give unions and the wider membership a say.
Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel predicted Labour would unite quickly to do a deal on a new leader rather than enduring a potentially bloody process.
"There are a lot of people who would like to see the matter resolved quickly, very quickly," she said.
But that would require Robertson and Cunliffe to come to an accommodation over the leadership and deputy leadership.
The smart money at this stage is on a Robertson-Cunliffe ticket as leader and deputy respectively. But it is not clear Cunliffe will accept that.
If he does decide to fight, and will not accept second fiddle, then Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern come into the mix as deputy.
Shearer's resignation came at the end of what one MP called a "growing crescendo" of MPs questioning his ability to take on and beat Prime Minister John Key.
It started in earnest on July 9 - the "night of the non-letter" - when rumours flew that a letter of no confidence was circulating.
There was no letter but Shearer's handling of the "man-ban" - a move to allow electorates to run women-only selections - had further undermined him.
A gang of seven senior MPs - David Parker, Shane Jones, Maryan Street, Robertson, Clayton Cosgrove, Chris Hipkins and Annette King - met him in his office to tell him he was on notice.
One MP said it was "vociferous" and sheeted the blame home to the leader. He was also told to sack his chief of staff, Alastair Cameron. Since then the drums had been beating, with members privately criticising his work rate and his failure to stay on top of his paperwork.
Insiders say it became apparent about two weeks ago that the mood had hardened. By last week all but a handful of his closest supporters had deserted him. His failure to call a recess-week caucus meeting also rankled when the party needed to address some big strategic issues.
The "snapper" moment - when Shearer held up two dead fish in the House - was a telling symbol of how much he was floundering.
By Wednesday, Shearer knew his fate was sealed. A Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll showed Labour making no headway, despite the Government's problems with the Government Communications Security Bureau, planned cuts to snapper quota and contaminated dairy products.
He took some advice, and "old hands" told him he would not survive a confidence vote. His time was up. There was no letter or a formal challenge, although one member of Shearer's camp conceded: "That's not to say there would not have been one."
About noon yesterday, Shearer told the party and informed the media 90 minutes later.
He was soon on a plane out of Wellington for a three-week holiday.
A short time later, Robertson headed into the debating chamber with list MP Ardern at his side to lead Labour's question time.
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