Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election 2008: Labour now led by Goff and King

Phil Goff is now leader of the Labour Party, with Annette King acting as his deputy. Both are from the right wing side of the Labour party, and both were allies of Roger Douglas during the forth Labour Government.

It is likely that Labour will move to the right under this leadership team, despite being in opposition. Goff could argue Labour needs to attempt to reconnect with what he sees as the 'centre' in New Zealand politics. This may lead to situations where Key appears to be on the left of Goff on some policies - this cannot be good for the rejuvenation of the Labour party.

Interesting that Goff describes himself as a "loyal Labour party person" - does this explain why he supported the forth Labour Government when they were enacting Act policies? For many he will also be remembered as the Minister who first introduced student tertiary fees.

Its possible the new National/Act/Dunne Government will attempt to shore itself up by starting the age old debate over who is tougher on crime. Act leader Rodney Hide is pushing an expensive three strikes policy and likely Justice Minister Simon Power is known for beating the crime drum. Goff had a reputation as a more reactionary Justice Minister, and King just finished a stint as Minister of Police. I really hope this does not mean they join the right in the meaningless 'mine is tougher than yours' competition. Instead I hope Labour join the Greens and the Maori party to stand up for policies shown to cut crime rates and lessen the need to build more prisons. Rationality may not swing short term political support, but logic has a greater chance over the longer term.

I also fear a Goff/King Labour party would support reactionary amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act and similar legislation.

Helen Clark did a great thing by announcing her resignation on election night. While it may have shocked some supporters, Clark was likely to move on in the next three years anyway. She ensured she left the leadership of the Labour party under her own terms, and while making a gracious speech, she also took some of the focus off John Key on election night. She also allowed the parliamentary party to reorganise itself quickly, in order that it can better prepare to challenge the new Government on day one of the Parliamentary term. It also gives the Labour party more time to tweak the leadership before the next election if need be.

Outgoing deputy leader Michael Cullen is upbeat. "We've got the best and strongest intake we've had since 1984, it's a generation, the base for a very strong performance by us moving forward so our message is to the National Party, being a law and order party, is three years and you're out.". He also promised "I don't want to become one of those old men in the Muppet Show up the back." This is a shame - I always though the old men in the Muppets had some of the funniest lines!

While the leadership of Helen Clark was a strength of the Labour party for a number of years, her dominance of the caucus and the party also limited the opportunities for any successors or an organised succession plan. This created the situation where Goff only need to bide his time and he would become the front runner by default.

While Goff was an effective minister this does not necessarily provide the style and skills required to be an effective opposition leader. As a minister Goff often defended Government policies by talking in a monotone and giving his opponents or journalists few opportunities to interrupt - on some days he sounded like a Borg drone powered by the Energizer bunny. As a ministerial tactic this could be useful, but the role of opposition leader requires the ability to empathise and talk in a way the public can identify with. I am not sure Goff is there yet - but this may improve now he is out from under Clark's shadow.

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