David Shearer may have just locked in his shot at becoming the next prime minister. With changes to Labour's leadership election rules, although he will have to win a majority caucus confidence vote next year, after that the task of any leadership challenger will be much harder. The most obvious change is that of having to build support amongst members and union affiliates to win a vote. But the changes of process probably have more impact in practical terms.

Under these new 'incumbency protection' rules, a challenge can only be initiated by two-thirds of the caucus. It's worth noting that successful leadership coups don't normally start with a majority, but rely on spooking enough waverers in the final run to build a majority, which is then presented to the incumbent as a fait accompli. Having to get two-thirds formally signed up before the voting even starts will make it impossible to stab your colleague in the back without having to actually eyeball them. Coups often rely on speed and stealth in the early stages, but the new required membership vote will take time and give the incumbent a huge opportunity and a public platform to fight back. The classic hurried return flight of the leader from an overseas jaunt and dreaded airport briefing from loyalists will be a thing of the past for Labour leaders.

As I commented to Claire Trevett (see: Labour makes it harder to dump leader) this is probably a good move for Labour. Leadership coups are usually motivated by growing panic by MPs about their personal political survival. The mere possibility of a leadership coup is usually has a corrosive effect on polls and provides an opportunity for political opponents to make mischief. Labour is smart to reduce that threat and distraction. Introducing a broader and longer-term perspective to choosing its leader will make the party more stable and the choice more considered.

Of course Labour could go much further, as No Right Turn points out in his evaluation - see: An improvement, but not democracy. It is actually quite common overseas (and even amongst New Zealand's smaller political parties) to give party members 100% of the say over who leads the party. While the changes seem to have approval from The Standard (see Mike Smith's Labour's review - a good job well done), David Farrar claims a united union vote would give them decisive power - see: Unions gain vote on Labour leader.


There are other changes to the list selection and policy process and a move to strengthen regional campaign organisation to build the party vote rather than individual electorates - see: Vernon Small Unions gain Labour leader vote. Electorate selection has not yet been reviewed but Labour president Moira Coatsworth told RNZ's Morning Report that a task force will look at how to ensure more women stand in safe seats - see: Labour president wants more women in safe seats.

It's the big showdown between the Maori Party and John Key today over water rights - or not. The coalition partners appear to have different views on the importance of the meeting - see Adam Bennett's Maori Party anxious but positive' over meeting PM. But divorce is very unlikely today. Expect vague promises to listen 'in good faith' and work towards a negotiated solution that doesn't delay the asset sales. Relying on iwi leaders to agree on a solution may be optimistic writes Kate Chapman in Iwi leaders' views differ on water rights.

Only negotiating with a few is one solution. Mana President Annette Sykes claims the Government is paying $300,000 to consult on freshwater issues to just five of the largest iwi while smaller tribes get nothing - listen to RNZ's Manu Korihi News.

The Otago Daily Times gets nostalgic for a simpler age when claims to water would have been seen as ridiculous and asks if 'there are claims to minerals, the airwaves, and so on. Where will it end?" - see: Politics, Maori and water rights.

For a thoughtful philosophic analysis of what is really at stake see the Political Scientist blog's Water, Waitangi, ownership and power.

The parliamentary Opposition failed to take up the opportunity of the first day back in Parliament yesterday to attack the Government over the water rights issue according to John Armstrong - see: What happened to the big hit from the Opposition?. Armstrong makes the important observation that 'on the question of whether Maori have ownership rights to water, Labour's need to appeal both to Maori voters as well as mainstream, conservative-minded Pakeha ones makes things as tricky for that party as it does for a National Government. Perhaps more so'.

Chris Trotter suggests that the Establishment needn't be too worried about Maori legal action on water ownership - nor should they worry too much about the protests against asset sales: 'While Maori are obviously concerned to secure a seat at the table when it comes to dividing up the spoils of the partial privatisation process, it is by no means clear that Maoridom as a whole is opposed to the sale of state assets per se.... But, representatives of the much more powerful Iwi Leaders Group spoke elsewhere (and approvingly) of "market mechanisms", "reserved share-holdings" and "royalties" - see: Needing divine help to make up numbers.

Other important or interesting political items today include:
* Grant Robertson responds, again, to Chris Trotter's criticisms of him, using the Greens opposition to genetic modification as an example of why Labour must resist 'uncompromising dogma' - see: Economy, environment not mutually exclusive.

* The show continues with Judith Collins' defamation action hitting the courts today. The substantive hearing will be in February and they were only laying out the hearing schedule today, but even that is an opportunity to make headlines - see: Mallard wants to see Key in court.

* The battle between the generations is taken up by baby boomer Fran O'Sullivan who writes to the PM with some practical suggestions for easing the burden on younger generations - see: Dear John: Generational equity a must.

* Even a Government minister is embarrassed by the low level of public expenditure on social housing (see RNZ's Shock at size of NZ social housing spending), but another minister is taking landlords overcharging for poor housing to task - see: John Hartevelt's Landlords picking on the poor. The named landlord issued an invitation for Paula Bennett to 'get off her fat arse' and see what he provides first-hand - see: Hartevelt's Bennett challenged to visit caravan park.

* Stephen Franks urges left-leaning Auckland councilor Cathy Casey to keep the pressure on for her right to information as an elected representative - see: Super City an elected dictatorship.

* ACC is, again, under fire for unreasonably denying clients access to support - see: Paloma Migone, Stacey Kirk and Danya Levy's Abuse survivors struggling to access ACC.

* Climate skeptics put their case to the court yesterday in their fight against NIWA - see: Niwa breaching its duties with figures - sceptics group.

* But wait - there's more! There is still another $200 million to be spent planning the 'Roads of National Significance' - see: RNZ's Govt to spend more on transport consultants.

* Both Tim Selwyn and Brian Rudman question attempts to fund Auckland roads via tolls - see: Rudman's Aucklanders pay Grand Old Duke of Auck marches to his own beat and Selwyn's Tolling a division of society.

* Legislation to ensure substances sold in New Zealand are safe appears to have some gaps writes the Timaru Herald in today's editorial: Something missing?.

* It was all a big mistake and it won't happen again reports Michael Field - see: Helen Clark shocked at tobacco award.

* Finally, Danyl Mclauchlan has the complete solution to all our political problems, as well as fixing that computer virus you didn't even know you had - see: National government to outsource government of government.