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One of the strangest coups in NZ's political history is underway


One of the strangest coups in New Zealand’s political history is underway.

Both the polls and common sense suggest Labour leader David Shearer is on track to become prime minister in 2014.

LATEST: Camp Cunliffe wins crucial victory on first day of conference

If you doubt it, remember that John Key’s election in 2008 was incredibly tight.

He was then re-elected in 2011 by fewer than 10,000 votes, only because of Steven Joyce’s ultra-cautious approach and the big increase in National’s vote in Labour-leaning Christchurch, attributed to Gerry Brownlee’s management of the earthquake response.

It is implausible that Mr Key has held on to those 10,000 votes through all the pratfalls of 2012, including Hekia Parata’s poorly managed Christchurch school restructuring and the undeniable rise in unemployment of the last three quarters.

Even if National has held on to all its support, Labour needs less than 1% of the voters who stayed home in 2011 to back it in 2014 and New Zealand will wake up to a Labour/Green government.

In normal times, the leader of the opposition’s hold on his party’s leadership would be absolute and it would be the prime minister needing to worry about panicked backbenchers.

These are not normal times.  Labour activists arrive at their annual conference this weekend seemingly determined to get rid of Mr Shearer.

The signs of a coup attempt are unmistakable.

All year, those close to challenger David Cunliffe have said privately that a coup would be mounted from November, to coincide with the conference.

Sure enough, the first November edition of The Listener carried a feature of Mr Cunliffe (albeit one in which the journalist, Guyon Espiner, savaged his subject for his vanity and pomposity).

Then, on Saturday, the Dominion-Post’s Vernon Small, perhaps the press gallery journalist with the best connections across the political left, wrote a feature called “Shearer's first conference speech may be his last.”

It led to a flurry of similar stories in other papers, all saying that Mr Shearer, hardly an orator, would have to give a blinder of a speech to survive – another line straight out of Team Cunliffe’s talking points.

On Monday, the Herald’s left-wing columnist, Tapu Misa, followed up, calling for Mr Shearer’s head, as did Helen Clark’s close friend Brian Edwards.  On New Zealand’s most influential left-wing blog,, at least three writers called time on Mr Shearer in the strongest terms.

No doubt, some of these news stories and blog posts were co-ordinated but it is not necessary to argue conspiracy – the coverage simply reflects the chattering of activists throughout the party.

They want Mr Shearer to go.

The question, as always, is who should replace him. 

It is usually obvious within minutes of meeting a budding politician if they have the potential for greater things.  Mr Key is the most recent example. 

There are usually a couple in each party.

In National today, for example, it is obvious that only Judith Collins and then either Amy Adams or Simon Bridges have the potential to lead the post-Key party.

Labour lacks anyone with genuine star quality but Mr Cunliffe is the closest.

The New Lynn MP is undoubtedly the activists’ favourite, particularly in Auckland, but Mr Shearer’s Ephialtian deputy, Grant Robertson, is backed by the unions, the party’s Wellington-based apparatchiks and the parliamentary wing.

 Some question whether Mr Robertson, being gay, could ever be elected prime minister, but more relevant than his private life is his professional one.  He is a Wellington bureaucrat who moved from the UN to become deputy chief of staff in Ms Clark’s Beehive.  Despite his relatively young years, Mr Robertson represents Labour’s past not its future.

Labour’s members want Mr Cunliffe to have a crack.  As revealed in Mr Espiner’s Listener article, he may be pompous and vain but he would take the fight to Mr Key.  On balance, he would be less risky for Labour than continuing with Mr Shearer.

It should be an easy decision.  Labour could bumble along for the next few months with a divisive leadership battle, slowly bleeding support.  Or it could just get on and cut Mr Shearer’s throat now.

More by Matthew Hooton

Comments and questions

you right win g twits would just love that
wishfull thinking

sad but true....good'll be nice to have David home more often quietly humming the Red Flag as he drys the dishes...

Cunliffe is unelectable as Prime Minister. There is just something inherently unlikeable about the man. Putting him as leader of the Labour Party would be an electoral disaster for Labour.

labour is an electoral disaster as is the scurge socialism. it's all reduction of freedom, opportunity, elimination of goals, achievement, and all underpinned by hate, envy, revenge, rage, bitterness, bile, vile, control and take - and this is why it attracts people like clark and cullen and cunliffe.

You are about as rational as a Tea Partier or Birther in the US. Froth and rave a little less when writing next time and maybe we will listen.

Actually if you read the Labour Party 96th Annual Conference Draft Policy, you will see the poster you replied to is correct. The policy is simply a mish mash of ideals with no factual gameplan or strategy to achieve Labours desired societal utopia other than through state sanctioned theft, devised by unqualified people who have never operated in the real world.

Are you out for the weekend with supervision?

You seem to forget that the most right wing party and indeed possibly the most destructive government this country has ever had foisted on it was the Lange government which set in motion the policies that have been followed by both parties ever since. Labour is as toxic as National. Both these rotten, arrogant, corrupt parties are in a state of rapid decline. They are relics of the past and the people need to sideline them as minor players on NZ's political landscape. They do not represent the majority of New Zealanders and I'm hoping that average Kiwis start to realise this but, as a people, we are terribly passive and conservative and very slow to pick up on things. It's also high time that the newspapers and TV stations gave more oxygen to the Greens, the Maori Party and others who are quickly filling the vacuum left by National and Labour.

I wish the msm would give more exposure to the greens and mana. Then the average nzer might start to see how impractical and undesirable their policies actually are - you know, in the real world where people need actual jobs, use technology, drive cars, have freedom of speech, etc.

Yes, but the only solution is to put Jacinda ARDERN now, capable of defeating John KEY and win in 2014, before all Labour Supporters regret in hind side again....

You speak of the former President of the World Socialist Youth or similar title to that. ??? Is that what/who good honest hard working Kiwis want as their P.M.

..and spending some time tidying up the MGA ? Both relics of the past.. at least the MG had form in it's day.

David Who?

Matthew Hooon is a not an Independant Commentator. He is a National Party propagandist. He is a lobbyist who attracts work from people who value his links in the National Party government.
His utterances here are designed to maintain the current government in power: nothing else.

Of course he wants Shearer to remain,
Of couser he does not want Cunlffe to lead the party and to win the Next election for Labour.

Had you read the full column, you will see I recommend Labour opt for Cunliffe now, so not sure what you are going on about. Also, what I have forecast here (written on Wednesday) seems pretty much playing out at the Labour Party conference this afternoon.

His form doesn't even justify a good sheep shagger.. sorry shearer joke !

Replacing a lemon with an equally sour lemon of a lsightly different hue does not make lemonade... no matter how much spin Labour think they can apply.

The Unions went against the current Leadership in the crucial "trigger" debate and vote at the Labour Conference today.
Andrew Little admonished the delegates to not "de-stabilise" the Caucus by allowing the membership and affiliates to review the leadership after each election. The Engineering Union and the rest voted against Little and for membership power.

True but don't read too much of Littles defense. The unions took control of the labour party today.

Pretty confusing article. First saying labour govt is likely but unlikely to be lead by anyone with talent.

Not confusing at all. That is probably what will happen in 2014. And then, about six months later, there will a bunch of stupid people complaining, something along the lines of "oohhh, I didn't think they would do THAT, maybe I should have read their manifesto. We want John Key back. Wah"

What a Hoot! I have just finished reading Pravda and now find the same propaganda driven drivel here. Next time you are collecting your cheque as a National Party Propagandist try to be a little less blatant in your political agenda.

Maybe a coup in the National Party? Bill English has that lean and hungry look about him.....

Hot off the press,. Looks like your one is underway:

A surprise vote at the Labour Party conference will mean Labour leader David Shearer will need the support of at least 60 per cent of his colleagues if it he is to prevent a challenge to his leadership next February.

The Labour Party is today voting on major changes to the way it elects its leader which will reduce the power of caucus by giving party members and union affiliates a combined 60 per cent vote on the leader.

In a surprise move this morning, the delegates also voted to require the leader to be endorsed by at least 60 per cent of his colleagues in a regular post-election confidence vote - higher than the original proposal of 50 per cent.

Shearer will face that next February - and the change will give heart to supporters of David Cunliffe who was among those to support the 60 per cent change.

National needs a coup not Labour

Just laughing at these outrageous comments, obviously these idea's are cooked up in people's heads. not to worry everything is good within the labour party

Whilst I may have different political views to Matthew I think he is right that Shearer is actually the best bet; some of the bloggers are obviously either too young or immature to remember that leading into 1996 Helen Clark's support for preferred PM was within the "margin of error".

Shearer doesn't need a blinder of a speech but does need to get the control of the system bedded in. And probably does also need to get some advisers less associated with one wing of the party.

The Labour Party needs to rid itself of all the Helen Clark lackeys. About 2/3rds of them.

David C never says anything that's not scripted. He's too robotic and so has no charisma - Labour are unnecessarily chancing their arm by replacing Shearer with Cuntliffe.

Robot: that is a totally incorrect statement. And totally un-informed. Anyone who has looked at Parliamentary TV knows that you are wrong.

Have a look here: there are links to his speeches in the Bear-pit that is parliament.

Labour are stuffed, Shearer is 'nice but weak and too centrist for Labour, Cunlliffe has more mongrel but he is disliked by many and h is just plain nasty and full of himself and a Robertson is gay and middle NZ wuold never vote for a gay PM. Labour will not will the the next election - thank goodness. Anything to keep those evil and corrupt socilaist out. Socialism as promoted by Labour has been the most destruction force we have ever seen in NZ,

As long as this Labour outfit is going to continue to screw!! the workers in favour of the tyre kickers and beneficiares, the less credibilty they are going to have.
When will they learn that it is a country that they have to run, not proples lives and households, light bulbs,showers etc etc etc REMEMBER!!!!!
Halan's still in charge from a far aye!!!.

Cunliffe, I would not trust. Sullen as he is self-obssessed.

The establishment left always regard sharp and abrupt politicans as unelectable, the fashionable left thought Muldoon becoming leader guaranteed a landslide to Rowling.. When Brash became leader of the National Party, political scientist Nigel Roberts said , it was a disaster and he would get even less vote from NZers than the forward looking, Bill English.
Another interesting parallel is when John Marshall made a so called brilliant speech at the 1973 National Conference, former leader Keith Holyoake rushed out of the theatre claiming it was a disaster, because it meant Marshall would remain the leader. Holyoake worked consistently to undermine that good Christian and friend of the church, Marshall.
One interesting thing about Cunliffe is that he is a former diplomat which means he must have some residual social skills. Cunliffe went to the tiny local Pleasant Point High School where there would probably have only been one or two people within 30 points of Cunliffes's likely 140 IQ, in Davids year. I'm sure DC would be at least 20 points clear of Clark as well and there's no way he's her puppet.
Cunliffe obviously needs a Press Secretary like Alistair Cambell as I would have thought Blair was one awkward fish- who needed a lot of managing and access control.
But the real point is NZs economic and political situation is changing every day and a real international crisis effecting trade could develop out of the Gaza affair. I'm not sure Shearer really has the nous and experience to handle such developments even in opposition and his UN background may mean he's too close to the issue in the wrong way.

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