Why Shearer doesn't have what it takes

By Steve Hart

CEOs see the Labour leader as too negative and a poor communicator, reports Steve Hart

Labour Leader, David Shearer. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Labour Leader, David Shearer. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

The Labour Party's hierarchy will deny it up and down, but its leader David Shearer is under a cloud and a serious question mark hangs over his ability to take on John Key at the next general election.

Asked if Shearer's performance has been sufficiently credible to challenge the government, few CEOs had anything positive to say about a leader who appears to have scored more own goals than a goalkeeper high on meth.

From the recent 'man ban' debacle, to attending the Sky City's corporate box at Eden Park - while campaigning against the casino operator's conference centre deal with National - and forgetting he had $50,000 in a foreign bank account, National couldn't have wished for a better opposition leader.

Predicts Veda NZ's John Roberts: "If Shearer stays as the leader, this will ensure National a third term."

"David's situation is in many respects unenviable, not only is he up against a strong leader like John Key, he seems to be perpetually having to defend against the risk of own goals - most recently the 'man ban' advanced by Labour's ruling national council," adds Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos.

Another CEO said: "Shearer is a major political asset for the government."

"David Shearer is a true gentleman and I like him a lot but be just doesn't seem to be able to take an audience with him," says BusinessNZ's Phil O'Reilly.

Shearer's patchy leadership and poor communication skills have overshadowed efforts by other key front-bench Labour players, like finance spokesman David Parker, to make public headway selling policies to the public. "David Parker is no slouch on financial issues. Business may not necessarily agree with him, but he has well thought-out views," adds O'Reilly.

Others point to Shearer's lack of initiative to effectively whip National when it trips up. John Barnett, chairman of South Pacific Pictures, says: "The Government's missteps have provided a number of opportunities, but Shearer hasn't grabbed them, nor acted decisively enough on them."

Others wanted to know what Shearer stands for, what is he passionate about?

BNZ chief executive Andrew Thorburn observes, "Shearer needs more impact. Clearer vision. Much more focus on a sustainable and clear economic plan. He's getting way to close to the Green Party."

Auckland Chamber of Commerce's Michael Barnett sums it up: "Shearer tends to build his commentary based on Labour Party internal politics rather than being seen to stand for something that might attract a new constituency."

Of the 118 CEOs who answered the question on Shearer's credibility as a challenger to National, 95 per cent say his performance has not been good enough; the remainder are unsure.

Shearer's fortunes will not have been improved by the latest TV3 poll in which Labour has slid 2.1 per cent to 31 per cent.

Some CEOs see Shearer as being too negative, ready to point out the errors of National without coming up with a viable alternative. Says Goodman Fielder's Peter Reidie: Shearer is "too oppositional." "Where is the big picture? I would love to be sold a dream, but he's letting the Green Party set the agenda."

"He has had an opportunity to outline a vision for New Zealand but has failed to do so," echoes another respondent.

"I guess he has to be negative as he's in opposition, but some of his stances, such as being anti-Chinese investment is just very bad for our country," says a business leader. "It's damaging to our wellbeing as a nation. I'm personally not interested that he was paid to work at the UN. I'm interested in someone who can lead our country in a positive way and inspire New Zealanders to seek to be successful themselves, rather than wanting the Government to fix their problems."

It's not all bad news for Shearer though, there is sympathy for him, and at least one CEO claims to have seen improvements in the Labour leader's performance. Siemens Paul Ravlich reckons Shearer has improved but lacks conviction and "comes across as a lightweight."

Pointing to the recent rolling of Aussie Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Ravlich says: "He should be worried that his party will be getting some ideas from across the ditch."

Independent director Alison Paterson says Shearer is a "decent man" but that may not be the quality the opposition Party leader needs to lock out Key.

- NZ Herald

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