Those of us following politics are witnessing the destruction of a party leader. The destruction is all the more remarkable because it's coming entirely from within. It's especially remarkable because the parties combined in opposition are consistently polling within a whisker of government. They could easily win.
National is polling extremely well but its necessary support parties are not. Next year's election is looking a close-run thing. MMP is like that. It's not how well one party does but how well the parties who can work together in government do in total.
The Labour Party should now be attempting to show themselves, the Greens and New Zealand First united in heading into government. Instead, Labour is failing to unite behind its own leader. It's a political mess. The plotters within the Labour caucus don't have the numbers to dump David Shearer. If they did, he would be gone. Minus the numbers, they aren't quietly getting on with their job. They are, instead, engaged in a guerrilla campaign to destroy their democratically elected leader.
That means always staying in the shadows. We don't know who they are. The Labour MPs, when asked, all pledge support for their leader. Some aren't telling the truth.
Meanwhile, senior MPs are briefing a prominent journalist that the coup is on. Nothing happens. But the briefing is reported and has the intended effect: the nails are being driven into Shearer's coffin.
The plotters then declare Shearer has 60 days to prove his leadership. It's nonsense, of course. If the plotters had the numbers they would not wait 60 days. They certainly can't guarantee the numbers in 60 days.
But the unattributed claim has the desired effect. It's newsworthy and further undermines Shearer.
The plotters' attacks are deathly corrosive. That's their purpose. If the plotters can keep up their attacks from the shadows they will inflict sufficient damage. At that point either Shearer or his colleagues and supporters will accept he is damaged beyond political repair. Then the plotters will have succeeded.
Meanwhile, when we are especially in need of an effective opposition, our major opposition party is entirely focused on itself. When we need more than ever to be debating the country's direction, the Labour Party is busy debating with itself.
The true difference between National and Labour is not philosophy or policy. It's cultural. It manifests in many ways. The Nats dispatch leaders with the minimum of fuss. They put winning elections and being in government above all other considerations. They don't do untidy. Labour revel in it.
The tough part for Labour's plotters is not the damaging of Shearer. That's easy. Their tough part will be putting the party together once they have succeeded. That's hard.
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