Garth George: Ego and ambition

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Labour Party leader David Shearer was absolutely right to discipline the treacherous David Cunliffe by stripping him of his spokesmanships and exiling him to the back benches, thus depriving him of much of his influence.

And those, like former TV guru and blogger Brian Edwards, who suggested that Mr Cunliffe was "being thrown under a bus for no other reason than petulance" is absolutely wrong.

Mr Shearer's big mistake was to allow Mr Cunliffe to retain his high party position and spokesmanships after the New Lynn MP challenged him for the leadership last December - and lost.

However, Mr Shearer, who is still a tyro in national politics, is by nature an honourable man and his treatment of Mr Cunliffe was not surprising.

He will have learned a valuable lesson in the leadership debacle which has unfolded over the past week or so. He will have learned that, as an opinion piece on stuff.co.nz reported: "Scratch beneath the surface of Cunliffe the politician, suggests one MP, and you find everything that gives politicians a bad name."

How right that is. From the time he entered Parliament in 1999, Mr Cunliffe was recognised and disliked for his enormous ego and ambition, and his behaviour at the party conference indicates his ego has, if anything, grown larger.

That one so arrogant, self-obsessed and ambitious could become leader of a major political party and, heaven forbid, prime minister of the country, is a horror not to be contemplated.

I have long believed that any person, without being asked, who puts himself or herself forward for political office - national or local - proves, by that very action, to be unsuitable for the job.

I have seen over many years some of those who have been asked almost destroyed by the poisonous miasma that pervades politics of any sort.

One of them, who was a good friend of my family's and one of the finest men I ever met, became an MP in 1957. I watched him deteriorate over three terms in Parliament and was relieved when he packed it in 1969 because, he said, he couldn't stand it any longer.

What made the Cunliffe matter worse was that at the special caucus meeting called by Mr Shearer on Tuesday, Mr Cunliffe tried to explain his actions away and deny he was trying to mount a leadership challenge.

So much did he anger some MPs in the caucus meeting, it was reported, that he was "given a brutal drubbing by many of his colleagues ... and emerged looking rattled".

Well it's hard to believe that a person like Mr Cunliffe could be "rattled" by anything. However, if the only way to learn humility is by humiliation - as I was told by an aged and wise priest many years ago - then perhaps Mr Cunliffe could be on the path to redemption.

It's no wonder his caucus colleagues became incensed. Mr Cunliffe's every action and every word before, during and after the party conference last weekend, made it abundantly clear to even the most uninterested of observers that he wanted to replace Mr Shearer as leader.

That he seems not to believe that of himself, in spite of all the conclusive evidence, speaks loudly of a serious character defect and suggests Mr Cunliffe has lost touch with reality.

Fortunately, Mr Cunliffe seems to have torpedoed any chance of ever becoming leader of the Labour Party. While it is said that a week is a long time in politics, and the public's memory is short when it comes to political skulduggery, Mr Cunliffe's caucus colleagues will not forget as February's leadership vote looms.

Mr Shearer has averted what could well have become a catastrophe for his already struggling party - and, perhaps, for the nation as a whole.

garth.george@hotmail.com

- Bay of Plenty Times

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