Audrey Young

Political editor Audrey Young blogs from Parliament

Audrey Young: Labour leadership issue re-ignited

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Labour MP David Cunliffe. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour MP David Cunliffe. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Just when Labour thought it was safe from leadership distractions, TV3's poll on Sunday night (Labour 27, National 57) has been the catalyst for new and heated debate over the party's performance.

One of the killer stats that hasn't been presented from the poll is that 35 per cent of Labour supporters believe that leader Phil Goff should be replaced.

That may not be a majority but it is almost as many as all voters polled, 37 per cent, and that is a large group by any stretch.

It is hard to believe that the poll wont rekindle caucus jitters especially amongst those destined for a life outside politics.

David Cunliffe's bravura performance on Morning Report this morning over the inflation figures sounded rather like an audition - generously assisted by the non-appearance of Acting Finance Minister Simon Power.

Cunliffe knows that that swotty David Parker emerged as a potential rival in the last leadership rumblings arising from the handling of the Darren Hughes case.

Now one of Goff's recent senior advisers, John Pagani, yesterday entered the debate on his blog and is being pilloried by the left for his view of where the party is failing.

Pagani is a real player in the Goff story. He was a longtime adviser to Jim Anderton and was appointed by Goff's office as communications director in August 2009.

Voters, Pagani said yesterday, are not desperate for a leap to the left by Labour, as some are arguing.

"They're waiting for Labour to demonstrate it genuinely understands their needs - and that means endorsing more of what National is doing - the things the voting public approves of.

"Every time Labour attacks policies and a government that voters generally approve of, they alienate themselves further from potential supporters who are swinging between Labour and National."

Pagani cites Labour's "politicking" around the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority.

"Attacking constructive things the Government is doing is exactly the wrong option," he says.

The Standard and No Right Turn suggest that if that has been Labour's strategy it's no wonder they are in the bother they are in.

That's unfair on Pagani. Labour has clearly not been adopting Pagani's strategy. If Pagani has been giving such advice they haven't been listening. If they had been listening, Pagani might not be a former adviser.

Chris Trotter is one of those on the left arguing passionately yesterday in his Bowalleyroad blog that Labour needs to turn harder left to attract voters to the centre-left.

"They don't like us and they don't trust us. Why? Because long, long ago they got the very strong impression that we don't like them.

"We don't like their values. We don't approve of their culture. And we're so infuriatingly certain that we know - so much better than they do themselves - what's good for them.

"We call them racists if they resist our bicultural programmes. We call them homophobes if they're less than 100 percent supportive of queer culture. We call them sexist if they energetically celebrate all the delightful differences between men and women. We want their votes - you bet. But we would really rather do without the voters themselves.

"Then, amazingly, we're surprised and hurt when they turn away from us. In truth, what we should really be surprised about is how many ordinary Kiwis, in spite of our insufferable arrogance and condescension, still decide to stick with us!"

At first glance, Pagani and Trotter would be appear to be on opposite sides of the argument - given that Trotter is calling for a hard left turn. But actually their respective cases have a common theme: both are arguing that Labour is making a hash of connecting with people.

I'm sure this will be on the minds of Labour's frontbench meeting in Napier today, if not the formal agenda.

Apparently local list MP Stuart Nash picked them all up in his fire engine-turned-electorate vehicle.

Nice touch, and it's not yet a leadership emergency, but I don't think the heat around Labour's leadership woes will be easily hosed down.

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