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Despite the danger of becoming a right charlie, I offer some free advice to David Shearer

Welcoming wrongdoers to hell, Rowen Atkinson’s ‘The Devil’ turns his attention to the large assembly of atheists present and says, ‘You must feel a right lot of charlies!’ It occurred to me that, if David Shearer becomes Prime Minister in 2014, he will be well within his rights to address the same comment to the Shearer non-believers, myself included,  who wrote him off two years earlier.

So what does Shearer have to do to ensure that he has that moment to savour? For starters, he would do well to take note of the fate of his predecessor, Phil Goff.

Here’s what I know from first-hand experience of knowing and working with Phil. He is highly intelligent, extremely hard-working, hugely politically experienced, a tough debater, morally scrupulous, a decent human being. His reputation as a minister in Helen Clark’s government was second to none, most notably in the Justice and Foreign Affairs portfolios. As a candidate for the highest office in the land his credentials would seem to have been impeccable.

So why isn’t he Prime Minister? 

There are no doubt several reasons. But the major reason is that for the greater part of his term as Leader of the Opposition, he languished  at under 10% in the ‘Preferred Prime Minister’ polls, while the gap between his party and National remained a chasm. This looks like an effect rather than a cause but it is in fact both.

The cause of his low rating was primarily his inability to master what Ian Fraser has defined as ‘the art of acting yourself’ on television. And it was compounded by the unique ability of his opponent to be himself seemingly everywhere.

The effect of Goff’s sustained single-figure rating in the Preferred Prime Minister polls, when combined with his party’s mediocre ratings, was to increase voters’ doubts about his fitness to run the country. No-one wants to back a loser. The self-fulfilling nature of political polls has long been denied by the people who make money from producing them, but it really is as obvious as the nose on your face: People prefer to back favourites.

Evidence of this, contained in recent British research on the effect of ‘the worm’ in televised political debates, has shown conclusively that audiences are strongly influenced in favour of a leader whom the worm ‘likes’. The research involved artificially manipulating the worm to heavily favour one leader in a political debate regardless of the quality of that leader’s performance. The debate was shown to separate audiences in different venues with the worm favouring a different leader in each. The audiences were then asked which leader they thought had won the debate. In both venues  the leader favoured  by the worm was declared the winner of the debate. Repetitions of the experiment produced the same result.

Voters, it seems, are less confident in their own judgement if they  perceive that judgement to be heavily at odds with majority opinion. So a leader who languishes for months at the bottom of the polls faces enormous difficulty in overcoming voter perception that he or she has little or no chance of winning the election and is consequently not worth voting for. That difficulty is exacerbated by the political and social truism that the rungs of the ladder to success are wider apart at the bottom than they are further up.

It’s traditional for low-polling party leaders to say they don’t care about the polls, ‘the only poll that matters is the poll on election day’. Shearer would be wise to care about the polls and to recognise the corrosive influence on voter perception of sustained low polling for himself or the Labour Party. He must get his poll ratings up and he cannot wait much longer to do it.

But can it be done? Well, he might look to Helen Clark for inspiration. In June 1996, not long after an abortive attempt to persuade her to step down as leader, Helen’s rating as preferred prime minister was around 3%. Her party’s support was around 14%. In November of that year she came close to winning the election and would have done so had it not been for the treachery of Winston Peters – a blessing in disguise as it turned out. She went on to win three terms as Prime Minister.

So if he can ignore the nonsense from the right that Helen is the Machiavellian force behind left-wing criticisms of his leadership, my advice to the present Member for Mount Albert is that he could probably do no better than to consult the former Member for Mount Albert for a little advice. And that at the risk of my looking ‘a right charlie’ if the advice works.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media

More by Brian Edwards

Comments and questions

So Brian's advice is "Ask Helen"? And "get better poll ratings"?
What makes you think he hasn't already tried both? Or that Helen wants to keep him?

Wonder, if Shearer was invited to Tuesday's night dinner, honouring Helen Clark? Or was he given the cold shoulder, while this select coterie of Labour's caucus were dining on cold cuts before the mains?

“morally scrupulous,”

Utter bollocks – self serving more the case.

Proven in two prime examples – firstly he belongs to the Labour Party – enough said there.

Secondly when he was grandstanding, stomping petulant feet in faux sanctimonious outrage at MP’s rorting expenses a few years back – when he was found out to have a private rental property in Wellington, but was claiming all manner of “Accommodation expenses” because the system allowed for this kind of “slush” where it relied on an MP’s personal honesty and integrity – all he could splutter was that he was “set-up by National in front of TV camera’s trying to embarrass him”

He wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed by his rorting, his lying and dishonesty – he was only concerned with being found about his rorting – in a very public and embarrassing way. His excuses at the time was “He is trying to sell it” Feeble, chinless, cornered rat sulking outburst because he proven to be telling lies.

Morally scrupulous… climb back on your unicorn Dr. Edwards, refill your prescription and scurry away for another day where you can try and plant your Labour-lovin’ propaganda elsewhere.

Didn't you know? Brian Edwards views the political world through his rose-tinted prism. Whether it reflects reality, is quite a different matter.

Shearer seems to have the right ideas,ie,country ahead of self and votes.
But for goodness sake, keep away from Komisaar Klark.
He should develop his own ideas and prove that he could be the competent and inspirational leader that NZ sorely needs.
Let's hope he can rise to the challenge.
WG

Bit like having Rasputin refer you to the Tsar for 'relief', doncha think?

Shearer looks a good bet for Labour party leadership but he has yet to show that he has the "right stuff" to lead the country;perhaps he can?
We are certainly going nowhere at present.
liberte

I think the bigger problem right now - is that Labour is traditionally a working class party - and by that I mean working class as defined in the 30's and the 50's. National was more for people who aspired to be more than working class.
So with modern life 2 things have changed (1) the class that used to be defined as working class is not there in numbers any more - there are still some but with all the social and technology changes there is a new working class - but it doesn't look much like the one of the 30's and the 50's. (2) with modern life the constant bombardment of advertising many more people aspire to be more than working class. This is why we had the financial crash - people wanted what they couldn't afford and baby boomers had the savings to lend it to them and a few fixers in the middle brought them together, and it all ended in tears.

So the die hard labour people are unhappy because they are focused in the past, they don't recognise the New Working class for what it is and consequently they are making the party unhappy and an unhappy party has no focus. I think Shearer does recognise where the party needs to concentrate their attention but the party is divided.

If there is a 3rd thing - there is a lot of rhetoric with political parties all over the world - the trouble is no one really believes they have the answers to the worlds current problems other than waiting out about 5 more years, or even if they do they cannot convince the voters.

Clairbear – that’s all mostly true.
Labour’s bigger trouble and also for their bully-boy union funders, is that they don’t have an absolute strangle hold on what was traditionally the only means to distribute information – populist rhetoric propaganda coupled with newspapers & union bulletins… and then later, radio.

Gone are the days when unions could spin lies and deceit with willing, eager, sycophantic churnalists rushing to out-spin the others in the hope for a prominent position in Labour come time to tryout for a political career.

Ohh they still try it today – just look at the lies MUNZ spun to NZ about PoAL and their eager puppet Mr. Cecil Walker – who was shown up to be anything but… the great thing for NZ Inc these days is that technology has exceeded the unions / left’s ability to “manufacture” stories… and in their desperation, the lies and attempted deceptions get bigger and bigger – isn’t that true Mr. Roofus Painter? Tell us about the GCSB tape you’re not letting Shearer have? Or you might even think Dr. Edwards was positioning himself for a tilt at Labour’s leadership it’s often so obvious.

Thank God for bloggers, NBR and the likes of the Truth – where bullshit is labelled as such and wonky stories planted by politically motivated unions are called out and ridiculed for exactly that…. Along with the failed rationale and reasoning.

Think of Labour’s “Fact Sheet” that had more holes in it than the SS Labour Party, or Labour’s misappropriation of $840K of tax payer funds for them to print Auntie’s Pledge Cards – just another example of propaganda… and they’re getting caught short and called out on it – because they can’t control the information or the agenda on the information anymore – and bloody good job too!

Those newspapers don’t like it at all – but neither do the readers, so they leave by the thousands… Nek minute, the paper needs to alter their format because of lost advertising revenue…

"Or you might even think Dr. Edwards was positioning himself for a tilt at Labour’s leadership it’s often so obvious." Are you insane? I'm 75, have never joined the Labour Party and nothing could appeal to me less than the job of an MP. First I'd have to join the party, then I'd have to be approved as a candidate, then I'd have to be there for two terms at least. I'd be in my mid-eighties before I could tilt at the leadership. There are more conspiracy theorists among people commenting on blogs than anywhere else in the country. Now I'm reading that Helen is behind plans to destabilise David Shearer. What utter nonsense.

Please do not ask Helen Clark.
She has her own agenda and it is not in New Zealand's interest.
Mr Shearer must show that he is the best person to lead NZ out of it's flatlining situation.Some innovative ideas would help.

My support of, and gratis work for, Labour fell away with Phil Goff's dog-whistle-race-baiting "One Nation' speech. David Shearer confirmed my notion that Labour had jettsioned its moral compass entirely when he gave his Grey Power beneficiary bashing speech.

A party that sacrifices core principles, and demonstrates a willingness to throw relatively powerless constituencies underneath party wheels to gain political traction cannot be trusted in any public policy area. And cannot be trusted with our support.

"Here’s what I know from first-hand experience of knowing and working with Phil. He is highly intelligent, extremely hard-working, hugely politically experienced, a tough debater, morally scrupulous, a decent human being."

That corresponds to my first hand experience of Phil Goff. I'd like to see him back as leader

Odd...Did I miss something in wrongly thinking that Brian Edwards already was "the right charlie" he is worried about becoming?

There seem to be a whole pack of right-wing trolls commenting here!

What Dr Edwards is really saying in his PC way is that he'd like to see Shearer gone by lunchtime, so the far lefties can offer all sorts of goodies to the electorate to get back into power. Shearer is a decent bloke, he is not a media darling, but media darlings are just actors, full of ego, and short on what it takes to do a job that might not be popular to the media lackeys of the far left. Ideal new leader credentials include someone crass enough to promise more hand-outs, like votes for those who wouldn't be allowed to hire a car in the USA, more power to the teachers unions so that they can teach why capitalism and business is so evil, and why parents shouldn't be allowed to have tools to measure their ability to actually teach, more taxes on business and savers, more apron strings to the illustrious leader at the UN, and more money for the DPB voter breeding program, more rights for criminal and less for victims........
Frankly, I don't see that Dr Edwards has anything to contribute other than support for left wing politicians, and improving his consultancy services for the new Labour leader wannabees.

DPB voter breeding programme? you are sick my friend

"Frankly, I don't see that Dr Edwards has anything to contribute other than support for left wing politicians, and improving his consultancy services for the new Labour leader wannabees." Pathetic. Another gutless 'anonymous' too scared to put his/her name to hi/her opinions. Which, in my view, makes them worthless.

you do realise that there are other political groups in NZ. Labour is the party of capitalism, National/Act the party of capitalists. The future lies with progressives. Look further than the media and you will find astonishing people with real ideas and solutions. But CAPITALISM as we know it needs to be pushed back into the cupboard as the museum piece it has turned out to be.
Now everyone reading this, assuming it graces these pages. Will brand this as leftist or whatever, clap trap.
We no longer value the doers , craftsmen and visionaries. We only value the people who count the money. So sad. Fonterra, our biggest company is becoming just another financialised opportunity. Money that should be back here circulating in our economy is now invested in markets all over the world. The financialisers are in there, but the farmers are still buying inputs at retail and selling at wholesale. The hospitality industry, NZ biggest private employer, is on its knees.
Our skilled workers are leaving at 1000 people per week, soon NZ will consist of the unskilled and the debt trapped. The local economy will collapse. What will the money counters do then.
Elect Key or Shearer et al, the result will be the same. We value nothing here anymore, Pure, well Pure-ish is ok. Dig up the country and sell the minerals for 1% royalty, let the later generations pay for the cleanup which internationally is 9% of the total value.
These guys all offer vote and hope, I prefer to invest in vision, long term planning, relationships and honest language. Ideas that actually consider all citizens. That PROTECT our tiny economy, shores and the vulnerable.
The wealthy are vital components of our society but stop calling them wealth creators, they are exploiters of good times and ideas. Alan Gibbs didn't push ahead with his aqua car despite his generous tax cuts. He actually bought back his proto types and now sits on them until things improve. This is how rich people operate. At the community level I witness real doers making a difference without tax breaks, income or support from Labour or National. The worm is turning on more than the TV screen.

Agree

Ah aaah! The old 'group think' phenomenon.  People do, in the main, feel more comfortable following the herd.

Just shows that we're really not all as civilised as we think and still evaluate things largely on animal instinct.  We will follow a stronger person - real or perceived.  And when, within our adversarial political system, when you are presented with someone who lacks the mongrel fighting quality, it is clear that he won't be able to achieve the necessary goals unless he has the fight.  

David Sherer does come across as a reasonable and decent individual, but doesn't put across any ability to 'scrap'.  Neither did Phil - who was not helped by his Cheshire cat grin, nor his bizarre gait and awkward body language that always made him look as though he was very uncomfortable in front of camera and just made him look like he desperately wanted to be somewhere else!
But Cunliffe, now there is one with a strong moral core, the vision, the 'mongrel' to execute and the full set of attributes to lead.

I know EXACTLY( in great detail) everything that is wrong with the gay* 'ol red labour tribe ( and I'm not telling).
* I may mean gay ol as in "happy to be NZ MP's in govt fighting the bad greedy influences for the people of NZ and protecting their interests".
I don't use the word in the way John Key did as "brilliant".

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