Radical change as Labour leader takes command

Labour leader David Shearer rocked up to Q+A last Sunday and displayed a remarkable transformation has occurred over the summer months. Gone was last year's hesitancy, that hesitancy of speech and the hesitancy of commitment to policy that had everyone who'd backed him worried.

Suddenly, there was Mr Fluent. And there was Mr Wily, that every effective political leader has to be. Pressed in a superb bit of interviewing by Shane Taurima, Shearer would not commit either way on paying Working For Families to beneficiaries, which was one of Labour's planks last year and which seemed to most of us a bit flaky. I mean, like there are billions to throw around?

Mr Fluent. He had upped his performance big time. He knew where he was and what he's become. He is the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party and he'd taken command, not only of the party but of himself too. It was quite something to sit in the studio and watch that interview develop and unfold and to see the change in the man's whole demeanour.


The guy had straightened up and faced north. I was sitting with the panelists, Mike Williams, Michelle Boag and Raymond Miller. We just looked at each other grinning, This was a bravura performance. This was a radical change. This was a performance to settle the nerves of the troops. Finally, here was the man who faced down the baddies in Somalia and got the parcels through to the kids.

We'd been looking for him, hoping he was there somewhere.

David Shearer and John Key are uncannily similar. Key is much more experienced in the House, of course. He has become superb at Question Time. There is not a lot better entertainment in this country at the moment than watching a monstrously confident Key leading his caucus in gales of confident laughter just flicking off the flea bites from the other side. Laughter.

But in private they are both easy-going, they speak sense, they want to learn and they're engaging. You can sit down and have a drink with them both. They're normal. Neither talks like he knows everything or considers himself to be the indispensable messiah.

In the end, it probably won't be policy that does it for Labour. There might just come a time when the public will prefer to give Shearer a go. That's generally what happens.

He's a new face, all right. The Labour Party of last year was a sad, tired old thing. I mean no offence to any of them, they were all fine public servants. It's just that no one can stay interesting forever. Except Jesus, perhaps. Or Saint Paul. Or Charles Dickens.

Then again who reads Charles Dickens these days? Having said that, I recall being unable to put Little Dorrit down years ago. Years ago being the operable phrase. Who's got the either the time of the concentration powers for Dickens any longer?

Also for Q+A I had cause to really brief up on Auckland's waterfront dispute and two of the leading protagonists came in on the programme last Sunday morning, the union president, Garry Parsloe, and the Ports of Auckland chairman, Richard Pearson.


Both were engaging men. And isn't that an interesting thing? I hardly ever meet anyone I don't like. Everyone wants the best for their people. Trouble is that people's views of what's best differ so widely. Causes trouble.

Anyway, I formed the view that the ports company have not been ungenerous in their offers to the union. In fact, even Auckland Mayor Len Brown himself agreed that the company's first offer made early last September should have been accepted.

The offer would have rolled over the collective agreement and given the workers a 2.5 per cent pay increase each year for three years. There were several offers but early on the company decided it could no longer tolerate its workers getting paid for sitting around doing nothing.

I do not believe the union when it says that it's a lie that the workers earn in excess of $90,000 for an average 26 hours work. Ports of Auckland had Ernst and Young audit the figures. And that's something you notice about the ports' conduct throughout the dispute. They've done things very thoroughly.

The union's argument that its people ceasing to be permanent staff would mean that their families couldn't plan things was obliterated by the company's offer to roster the men for 160 hours a month, and the roster delivered a month ahead. For the life of me, I can't see what's wrong with that.

I think the union was dyed in the wool. I think they didn't read the signs. Before they knew it, it was all over. Nearly 300 men were made redundant, just like that. End of story. I think there were some hardliners who've buggered things up for everyone. Hysteria is never a good thing.