David Shearer's leadership of the Labour Party appears to be doomed. Today could well be a crucial turning point for him, with not only the publication of an damning column on his leadership, but numerous reports of a crisis in his office involving an almost complete clean-out of senior advisors appointed only a few months ago after his election.
The rumour mill is in full production about the in and outs of Labour's staffing affairs, but possibly one of the most significant blows has been landed by Chris Trotter today - one of Shearer's most prominent backers for the leadership contest last year. Trotter's column is a damaging mea culpa saying he was wrong to promote Shearer and that it's effectively all over for the fledgling leader - see: Labour picked the wrong guy. Trotter says Shearer's leadership, originally hailed by insiders as 'the experiment', is now being described by the same people as 'the unfortunate experiment'. And, unfortunately for Shearer, Trotter says that not only can the leader 'barely string 10 words together' he has no sense of vision or ideas.
Danyl Mclauchlan at the Dim-Post has a similarly bleak analysis and provides something akin to the five stages of grief, tracking his sentiments in the months following Shearer's elevation to Leader - see: Strategy and tactics. Not surprisingly, therefore, iPredict currently forecasts the chances of Shearer being replaced as Leader this year at 23% (up from 13% last week), and 21% for next year - a 44% chance of a new Labour leader before the election. Expect those odds to shorten.
David Cunliffe's supporters often claim that Shearer's leadership victory last year had much to do with the Machiavellian role of rightwing bloggers David Farrar and Cameron Slater. Their suspicions will be strengthened as the right continue to speculate mischeviously on Shearer's fate. Martyn Bradbury argues that Farrar's 'gift-wrapped suggestion' of Shearer was a 'poisoned chalice' and that he was backed mostly by Labour's rightwing - see The destabilization of David Shearer's leadership. For a summary of the blog war on David Shearer, see Toby Manhire's The bloggers on: David Shearer under pressure.
Labour can't blame it all on rightwing bloggers though. As Tracy Watkins reports, the tension and conflict in Shearer's office has become very apparent to all over the past week and some of the information on blogs had to have been leaked from senior Labour MPs or staff - see: Nash denies being frogmarched from office. See also, Vernon Small's Tensions rise in David Shearer's office.
Not only has former Chief of Staff Stuart Nash departed Wellington suddenly, but it now appears senior advisor John Pagani's contract has also finished this week, and there are unconfirmed rumours that Chief Press Secretary Fran Mold had already submitted her resignation some time ago - see: David Farrar's Two more Shearer staffers leave.
It looks very messy and somewhat desperate, but the reality is Shearer has failed to make gains for Labour at a time when almost all observers felt National has been extremely vulnerable. That the Greens have been able to consolidate and increase their support in the same period underlines Shearer's failure.
David Farrar has a thoughtful opinion piece in today's Herald arguing that it is no surprise voters are increasingly supporting the Greens over Labour - see: Why wouldn't left voters support the Greens?.
If Shearer's departure from the leadership is inevitable, then the two big questions are: when should it happen and, obviously, who would replace him?
On the one hand, rolling Shearer now would make Labour look panicky and divert attention from National's many difficulties. On the other, keeping Shearer on as a lame duck leader is unlikely to improve poll ratings, leaves his replacement less time before the election, and it would result in months of Labour Party in-fighting - something they excel at but which generally serves them very badly. As an 'outsider', Shearer does not have strong factional support within caucus and so probably wouldn't be able to mount much of a fight if senior MPs told him it was time to go. A resignation, rather than a leadership vote, is the most likely end point.
An early departure would probably be to the advantage of David Cunliffe, as he was seen as the only alternative just a few months ago and clearly retains considerable support in the wider party. Cunliffe obviously realised that he may get another shot at the leadership within a year and has been careful not to burn any bridges with his caucus colleagues, whoever they voted for. The iPredict stocks on 'David Cunliffe to be next Labour Party leader' are currently running at 24%.
The iPredict stock for 'Grant Robertson to be next Labour Party leader' is at 39%, making him the clear front runner. And as numerous observers have noted, Robertson has an increasing number of friends in the current Leader's office.
Party activists, however, who appeared to favour Cunliffe last year may be very resistant to MPs taking another punt on a relatively inexperienced and unproven leader. As Greg Presland has blogged, there are also suspicions that Robertson or one of his allies is actively leaking to undermine both Shearer and Cunliffe, which won't go down well with the wider party - see: Is David Cunliffe now Shearer's best friend?).
SkyCity appears to be at the nexus of nearly everything else interesting in politics at the moment. The donations that the gambling company gives to politicians are certainly going to continue to be controversial - especially with the Labour Party making a complaint to the police about John Banks not declaring that an anonymous $15,000 donation actually came from SkyCity - which is reported by Patrick Gower in Banks on Sky City donations: I have nothing to hide. Claire Trevett has also covered this, notably with an admission from Banks that his campaign staff may well have known the source of the money - see: Banks did not reveal SkyCity as big donor.
The Auckland City Council are also facing flak for their decision not to take sides over the SkyCity convention centre proposal - see Bernard Orsman's Labour and Greens upset over mayor's 'fence-sitting' on plans. Typical of those on the left, blogger Tim Selwyn is labelling Mayor Len Brown, The sell out.
Jane Clifton warns the Government this week that the SkyCity deal involves too many negative connotations: 'political favouritism, prime ministerial interference, the aggravation of a growing social problem, big wodges of money going into corporate pockets, backroom deals, a call-to-arms for every liberal-left sector group and tut-tut fuel for the concerned person in the street' - see: The PM's proposal to SkyCity. And today David Fisher provides further information about the negotiations (Talks went quiet at election time: casino boss).
With the gaming industry in the spotlight at the moment, Steve Kilgallon has provided an very timely in-depth story about the sheer grubbiness and cravenness of the Pub Charities industry - see: The inside man. Kilgallon suggests, indirectly, that if charity sector pokies are a 'lesser evil' than SkyCity, they're still evil. And academic expert, Peter Adams, asks Who exactly is it who wants more pokies?.
For some, the SkyCity proposal relates closely to the other significant piece of news today - the release under the Official Information Act of details of the backroom negotiations between the Government and Warner Bros over the filming of the Hobbit in New Zealand - for the details, see Claire Trevett's Jackson got Hobbit pledges before union row. Gordon Campbell says the news is important: 'It offers a rare glimpse into the fashion in which this government "negotiates" with major corporates, and this could hardly be more timely - given the secrecy that continues to surround a Sky City casino deal that (like the Hobbit situation) involves the government being (apparently) willing to scrap existing New Zealand laws and regulations, in order to meet the demands of a foreign corporate' - see: On the relevance of the latest Hobbit revelations.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* Labour and the Greens are claiming Finance Minister Bill English has admitted defeat over the target to return the Government to surplus by 2014, revealing a $1 billion deterioration, admitting they may miss their surplus target but signalling further cuts to meet the shortfall - see: Vernon Small's Surplus forecast reset in Budget softener. Duncan Garner says National seems determined 'almost at all costs' to achieve the surplus and that it seems to be more of a political, than economic, target - see: Zero spending, cuts expected for budget.
* Trevor Mallard's blue-collar credibility is being challenged by Karl du Fresne in Blue collar, or blue rinse?. Apparently Mallard has been 'rather selective in highlighting his Wainuiomata background while playing down his more privileged antecedents'.
* The Electoral Commission has just released survey research examining why last year's general election had the lowest voter turnout in 100 years. This is partly covered in the Radio NZ's Half of non voters decided not to on election day, and audio item. There will be a full RNZ Insight investigation into the Getting People to Vote, which will be broadcast on Sunday morning.