Sir Bob Jones

Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Bob Jones: On likeability alone, Robertson's your man

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Grant Robertson. Photo / Natalie Slade
Grant Robertson. Photo / Natalie Slade

I don't know David Cunliffe but his parliamentary colleagues and the Press Gallery do and virtually to a man and a woman can't stand him. By contrast Grant Robertson is enormously liked by everyone. That alone should decide Labour's leadership, for as John Key demonstrates, likeability is a considerable electoral bonus. But not entirely, as David Shearer showed. David's measured nature unsuited him for adversarial politics, this to his credit in many eyes. Still that's not so with Robertson, who attracts Press Gallery plaudits for vigorously holding the Government to account, which is the role of the Opposition.

The third contender, Shane Jones, like his two rivals has impressive intellectual credentials and, although likeable in a roguish way, lacks the necessary gravitas.

Is it possible to have an electorally successful leader who's disliked by all who know him, but not by the public? Australia gives a lead. Australian commentator David Marr wrote a fascinating book, Power-Trip Rudd vs Abbott, Political Animal, in May.

This revealed how truly horrible both Abbott and Rudd are, albeit for sharply different reasons. I already knew of Abbott's ghastliness but less of Rudd's background. But here's the point. Throughout his career, everyone Abbott's worked with, going back to university days, liked him enormously and remained staunchly loyal. Conversely, it took only a few months throughout his career for everyone around Rudd to detest him with a deep loathing.

Rudd's ascension to the Prime Minister's office owed much to luck. Relatively unknown, he gained Labour's leadership just as the public tired of the Howard Government after 11 years in office, a lengthy duration for Western democracies. The 2007 election arose soon after and Rudd sailed into office, lasting only 2 years until, as throughout his career, his colleagues could abide him no longer and rolled him for Julia Gillard.

Facing a rout in the coming election, Labour MPs recently held their noses and reinstalled Rudd in the hope he could save his party, if not the Government. But the cat was now out of the bag about his character as journalists like Marr revealed. Rudd's final death knell probably came from no less than the innocuous make-up girl after the first leaders' television debate. She had no political agenda but went public with how appallingly rude Rudd had been to her whereas Abbott had been charming.

As we witnessed here with the nondescript backbencher Aaron Gilmore, voters will tolerate politicians' misdemeanours but bullying towards menials is unforgivable. Still, we should be grateful our politicians are mostly a decent lot when compared with their terrible Australian counterparts. That said, despite his shortcomings Rudd is far superior to the awful Abbott in competence but his destructive personality over-rules any plusses. Pity Australia.

So, returning to Labour's leadership contest, I believe Robertson is the standout choice for, as he attracts such warmth and respect from his caucus colleagues, inevitably he will from the wider electorate in the high-profile leader's position, and will better achieve a united caucus than Cunliffe.

As always when appealing to the party faithful, the candidates, Jones excepted, claim extreme positions, in this case the ritual attack on Rogernomics. Ignore that dishonesty. Helen Clark trotted out that guff to the faithful but on achieving office, sensibly left well alone, as indeed the preceding Bolger Government did despite in Opposition hypocritically attacking Douglas' necessary reforms when they were instigated in the mid-1980s.

The candidates should knock this knee-jerk 1960s backward-looking nonsense on the head and advance positive policies. Rogernomics, in alignment with the rest of the world, was simply the institution of economic democracy, otherwise known as the market economy, whereby individuals made their personal decisions rather than the state. That it's an immensely more productive system is indisputable.

Cunliffe claims he can attract the 30 per cent or so who failed to vote at the last elections which he believes to mainly be an underclass comprising probable Labour votes. Some hope! Everyone gets an equal chance with free education.

Most seize that opportunity regardless of their home circumstances but others opt to live out materially bleak, taxpayer-subsidised lives, driven by instant gratification.

If anyone can stir this apathetic lot it would more likely be the affable, rugby-playing Robertson.

All of this points up the foolishness of Labour's candidate and leader selection mechanism. It stands in stark contrast to National's democratic model in which the electorates choose their candidates and caucus their leader.

That said, it sometimes fails, as Aaron Gilmore demonstrated and the Maori Party discovered when opting for the National model on the valid grounds that it was democratic, only to find to their dismay that it delivered up Hone Harawira, whose destructive nature has done them so much harm. But that's a consequence of MMP, neither being electable had voters any say.

- NZ Herald

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