Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: C'mon politicians, make my day

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Labour's outgoing leader David Shearer failed to make an impression. Photo / NZ Herald
Labour's outgoing leader David Shearer failed to make an impression. Photo / NZ Herald

Sometimes, it takes an outsider to draw attention to something that's been staring you in the face for a long time. I have a pair of French friends who, after a mere seven years here, think they are entitled to an opinion about life in New Zealand.

Actually, they're happy to share their views on anything - don't get them started on the best sort of buckwheat flour to use when making crepes.

"What is missing, Paul, from politics here," said one the other day, refusing to resort to comical French syntax, "is any vision. No one ever says anything to make you excited about how things could be."

After lashing out with a couple of knee-jerk cracks about the Rainbow Warrior and presidents who live the high life, I had to admit he was right.

We are so used to being uninspired by our politicians we don't even notice it any more.

Which brings us to the Labour leadership selection and the figures - in strict alphabetical order - of David Cunliffe, Shane Jones and Grant Robertson.

Never have three bald men fought more fiercely over possession of a comb than this trio is doing over a prize no one in their right mind could want.

As soon-to-be-redundant jobs go, leader of the Labour Party is up there with sales manager at the electric typewriter factory and cinema projectionist.

But when another friend asked breathlessly: "What about David Shearer resigning?" I was reminded that there are still some liberals out there who take Labour seriously as a political force.

The media have been trying very hard to add some oomph to the Labour leadership campaign and good on them because you'd be waiting a long time for any of the colourless candidates to set the electorate's pulse racing.

They will march forward to September 15, humming the old refrain about restoring a fair go for the average Kiwi - just as the other side does - without a clue as to how to bring that about.

But imagine a world in which you looked forward to hearing what a politician had to say on an issue because it would be practical, sensible and inspiring, a world in which leaders actually led.

Not easy, is it?

On Twitter I saw someone, who would presumably answer without a blush to the description "Labour Party faithful", call someone else out for saying that the new Labour leader will need to come up with some good strong policies.

No, she said, it's the Labour leader's job to put in place the party's policies.

And there's your problem: Labour wants a leader who won't be allowed to lead. Passion and vision won't come into it, and that is what has brought Labour to this stage in its drawn-out death throes.

Shearer failed to make an impression, not only because of personal style but also because he is the leader of a dying party. He had a crack at a couple of visionary policies without gaining any headway. Somehow a capital gains tax failed to inspire voters. Perhaps it was the wrong sort of visionary.

However, his replacement, knowing he will not have to put them into practice, has the opportunity to go out on a limb with some visionary policies, albeit chancing a bit of a ticking off from the party in the process.

Unfortunately, even though he will never be Prime Minister, he will want to stay leader of the Labour Party. Risk aversion being the golden rule of getting elected, he will keep his visionary policies to himself.


Headlines I'll never see, #2:

"Council's 'visionary' waterfront plan earns unanimous support"

"Fonterra celebrates another gaffe-free year"

- Herald on Sunday

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