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Herald on Sunday editorial: Labour must make a real change

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David Shearer and David Cunliffe. Photo / Christine Cornege
David Shearer and David Cunliffe. Photo / Christine Cornege

On Tuesday, all other things being equal, the Labour caucus will elect a new leader. And whatever choice they make will be the wrong one.

Neither David has what it takes to lead the party back from its most comprehensive electoral defeat since the 1920s.

The two contenders are doing their utmost to differentiate themselves: David Cunliffe emphasises his experience in Parliament and in Cabinet ("I am ready now," he says, none too subtly dismissing his opponent's claim to be a fresh face); David Shearer says he represents a resolve to move forward ("I hope I would be liked. If I didn't, I'd be a pretty disastrous politician," he says, underlining the fact that the haughty Cunliffe is not well-liked in caucus).

The problem is that both men are mired in a past that Labour needs to leave behind. Cunliffe, now in his fifth term, was a Cabinet minister under Clark and is the party's finance spokesman; Shearer, who took Clark's stronghold electorate of Mt Albert after she resigned, hasn't yet done three years.

But he's well into his 50s, and he's a favourite of - and indissolubly linked with - the past two leaders. Neither man embodies the fundamental, generational change that is called for now.

Labour needs to reinvent itself completely - not simply change the personnel on the bridge - if it is to have even a ghost of a chance of looking like a credible government in 2014.

It is telling that a National Business Review survey released on Friday had Jacinda Ardern as the most popular candidate for the deputy leadership - and she's not even running.

The likes of Ardern, Chris Hipkins, Grant Robertson and Carmel Sepuloni represent real generational renewal. By 2014 they will start to look experienced. The Davids will just look old and stale.

- Herald on Sunday

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