Rodney Hide: False moves will wreck fresh start

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The Labour Party starts afresh today. A new leader enables a party to ditch the negatives and build the positives.
Labour party leadership candidates David Cunliffe, Shane Jones and Grant Robertson. Photo / Paul Taylor
Labour party leadership candidates David Cunliffe, Shane Jones and Grant Robertson. Photo / Paul Taylor

The Labour Party starts afresh today. A new leader enables a party to ditch the negatives and build the positives.

The mistakes of the past can be swept away and the party presented anew, a fresh look to its traditional values. It's a huge opportunity and is easily wasted. A leader gets only one shot at it.

The new leader's first task is unity - that means big roles for the two other contenders. No one disgraced themselves and their pluck and supporters deserve reward.

Plus, it looks good. It shows there are no hard feelings and the new leader is focused on winning, not petty politics. Besides, no leader wants a wannabe causing trouble from the back bench.

David Shearer's new role is not problematic: he can be given whatever position the new leader sees fit, as the party must move on.

The same is true for old hands like Trevor Mallard, Annette King and Phil Goff.

The big plus of the primary race is that the new leader has a mandate from the party, and can use that mandate ruthlessly. The party needs a freshen-up and it needs MPs who are hungry for government to lead the charge.

The new leader must recommit to the members - another trip around the membership bases throughout the country is needed to prove that the appeal to their votes in the primary election wasn't just a show.

Nothing builds loyalty more than recommitment to supporters the day after winning the vote.

A membership tour also allows the new leader to invite the members who didn't vote for him to swing in behind. That's important. The genuine members can readily accept the democratic result and new leadership, but the new leader also needs their enthusiastic and active support.

That's why reaching out to the membership is critical.

The new leader must also reach out beyond the membership to every day New Zealanders. That means time on the road. It's a commitment that, for a political leader, must never end.

Helen Clark spent a lot of her days as Prime Minister on the road meeting New Zealanders. I suspect John Key spends even more time doing that.

They have to - New Zealand is a small country and a leader must build and retain political capital through real-life contact. It enables them to survive the rough times and to reach over the top of the New Zealand media.

The big support that's needed to win and retain the Prime Minister's job is not achieved by sitting in Wellington and relying on TV appearances. Leaders have to get out among the people.

The new leader must also reach out to NZ First and the Green Party. This will be tricky: David Shearer made the mistake of letting the Greens look like they were in charge. The new leader must convey the message that he's in charge, but that there's a place in government for the Greens - just not as big a place as they expect.

It must also be explained that the Greens' policy ideas can't be pursued at the risk of winning government. The new leader must win the centre vote, and the Greens put that at risk.

Winston Peters won't commit to a side until after the election. The important thing is to keep the possibility of his support alive and likely, and to ensure the necessary talks post-election. It will be important to figure out what exactly it is that Winston wants.

Finally, there will need to be a gentle backing off from the policies promised to the unions and to the members in order to win their primary vote. The "living wage" for public servants and powered-up unions is not a go for middle voters. The new leader must ever-so gently climb off those policy horses.

Phew. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

- Herald on Sunday

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