Nash Williams and Michie on The Nation
STUART NASH, MIKE WILLIAMS & JENNIE MICHIE
Interviewed by RACHEL SMALLEY
Stuart Nash blames Fran Mold for Shearer's failure
Mike Williams says socially conservative electorate not ready for gay Robertson
Jenny Michie backs Cunliffe --- and agrees with Williams
Rachel Welcome to the Nation, I'm Rachel Smalley. September 15th, that is the day that Labour will announce its new leader. So for the next few weeks the candidates will be campaigning trying to convince their caucus, the party, Labour's affiliates the Unions, that they can beat John Key next year. Nominations will close on Monday night and they will not doubt be discussed at Labour's caucus on Tuesday. Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe are almost certainly contenders. Others may throw their names in the hat too, perhaps Andrew Little, maybe Shane Jones. We asked all four MPs for an interview but they declined. So which way will the leadership go, and how did it get to this? Stuart Nash is a former Labour MP and former Chief of Staff to David Shearer. He joins me now from Hastings. Good morning Mr Nash, thank you for joining us this morning. We have an audio problem at the moment, we'll come back to you.
We're going to speak with the former Labour Party President, Mike Williams, who is with us here in the studio. Hi Mike thanks for joining us this morning. Okay I want to put this question actually to you in the first instance. What failed? Was it David Shearer, or was it the team around him?
Mike Williams –
Former Labour Party President
Bit of both I think. There was something missing from David, I'm not quite sure what it was, it might have been mongrel, bit of you know real determination. Perhaps he was just too nice. I don’t know, but certainly he was highly intelligent, dedicated to the task, his heart was in the right place, but I don’t think people could see him as standing up to John Key, and I think that’s an absolutely crucial characteristic you’ve gotta have in this political environment.
Rachel Alright Mike we'll come back to you a little later in the programme. We're going to go back now to Hastings where I think we have Stuart Nash, and I think he can hear us now? You can I think. Excellent. Thank you for joining us there. Can I put that to you actually as David Shearer's former Chief of Staff. Was it David Shearer who failed or did the team around him, the immediate team around him? Did that team fail him?
Stuart Nash – Former Labour
Well I would say two things Rachel. There were two things that went wrong. First of all, you know your political history as well as I do, I cannot think of a party that won an election either in government or in opposition that had an openly dysunified caucus, and the second thing I think went wrong is the strategy was wrong in the Leader's office.
Rachel Okay so let's start with the caucus. What did the Labour caucus think of Shearer?
Stuart Well they elected him. When you elect a leader you stand behind that leader, you work very hard for that leader, and you make sure you give that leader the best possible opportunity to win an election. Politics is about winning elections. I personally think David would have been a very good Prime Minister, he's a smart guy. Look I don’t buy into the argument that he was too nice. This was a bloke who lived in Mogadishu. This was a bloke that led the UN in Iraq. Mr Nice does not do those sorts of jobs. This was a hard man. He was a very good bloke, and like I said I think he would have been a very good Prime Minister given the opportunity.
Rachel What was going on in the Leader's office then?
Stuart Well I firmly believe that if you want to be Prime Minister you’ve gotta give every New Zealander the opportunity to have met you. Now if you think about if you want to be President of the United States that person has to travel up and down the country and speak in nearly every little hamlet, town, city, right across America. And it's the same in New Zealand. Helen Clark between 1996 and 1999 spent all her time just travelling up and down and right across New Zealand, speaking to every little Rotary Club, Lions Club, Workingmen's Club, you know you name it Helen talked to it. You’ve gotta have meetings with town halls that contain 10 people and contain a 100 people. You’ve gotta give 10 speeches a week, and then you’ve gotta get up and you’ve gotta give another 10 the next week. Every single year when you are in Opposition is election year. There is now sort of hiatus, there's no holiday, you’ve gotta start campaigning the day after the election.
Rachel So they had the wrong strategy for him then do you think?
Stuart They did. I firmly believe that what David needed to do was – well do what Helen did. Tuesday and Wednesday in parliament, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, up and down the country speaking to New Zealanders. Like I said if New Zealanders feel they’ve had the opportunity to meet you it doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily taken up that opportunity, but if they feel as if they have had that opportunity then they're much more likely to vote for you. And keep in mind if you come to a place like Hastings, or like Napier, the Leader of the Opposition turning up is still big news, you're still gonna get your photo in the community daily, or the community weekly.
Rachel So who do you blame for this failure? Who do you blame for this failure in strategy?
Stuart Well David had some staff around him that he listened to, that he took advice from. The bottom line is, David has resigned as Leader of the Opposition because he felt as if he didn’t have the confidence of his caucus colleagues, and that basically is because the polls weren't rising in a way that the caucus felt he should have. So you know I think his chief strategists have actually got to put up their hand and say hey we got it wrong.
Rachel Who? Exactly who?
Stuart Well I actually think Fran Mold needs to put up here hand and say look, maybe I didn’t do things as well as I could have in terms of media relations. Alistair Cameron perhaps has to as Chief of Staff. But Alistair's a very good man and I've had a couple of conversations with Alistair, but you know the bottom line is David is the Leader, but I just think if he had spent all his time up and down the country, cos he is a good man, he's a man of absolute integrity, he's a man of fantastic values, and he could have been a good Prime Minister. But what I'm talking about, this isn't rocket science Rachel, this isn't the first time this has been said. This is what every leader in New Zealand and across the western world does if they want to be Prime Minister, President, you name it. They get out and they meet the people, and they find out what the real issues are.
Rachel Sound missing
Stuart Well that’s an interesting question and I think this is going to be a fantastic opportunity for Labour if they do it well. What Labour now has the opportunity to do is to go out to the whole country hey we've got two three four, I don’t know how many people are gonna put their hand up – potential leaders who can really put forward their vision for how they think New Zealand could be under a Labour government and they’ll put forward a compelling case for why they should be Prime Minister. If this is handled well, and I don’t think this is going to be a dirty race. I've read in the press that people think this is gonna tear Labour apart. I don’t see it that way. I think if handled well this could be a fantastic PR opportunity for Labour.
Rachel Who's the best man then and it looks likely to be a man? Who is the best man to front foot John Key.
Stuart Well I tell you what, and I'm going to take my cue from how both – well it looks like at the moment and let's be honest – it looks like it's going to be Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe. Now Shane Jones may put up his hand and I hope he does, and in fact I hope we have four or five people put up their hand and we have town hall debates up and down this country with these five people putting forward a vision for how New Zealand could be. But let's say it is Cunliffe and it is Robertson, well I will make my choice cos I'm a member so I get a vote, I'll make my choice after hearing the candidates and who I think is the best person to first of all, and most importantly, unify the caucus. That is the number one thing, they’ve gotta unify the caucus. The second thing – who can sell a vision to New Zealand, who can convince New Zealanders that Labour is now ready to govern.
Rachel Stuart Nash former Chief of Staff, live from Hastings this morning, thank you for your insight. Let me go now to former Labour Party President, Mike Williams. Mike everybody is going to get a vote now because that’s the nature of this process. How will that change things do you think?
Mike It's unpredictable, it's something that’s never been done before in New Zealand, and indeed the underlying rules on how it's gonna be done were only published, I got them last night, and they're dated the 23rd of August, so that’s the day before yesterday. I haven't absorbed all these. What is going to happen is a kind of primary situation. There’ll be a series of meetings, even the places the meetings will be held is defined in these rules, and they're pretty predictable, and I hope they’ll be open to the media, it's not specified, and I think it could create a great deal of interest in the Labour Party, and in the candidates, and I hope it does.
Rachel Is it right to say that you know the party supports David Cunliffe and the caucus support Grant Robertson?
Mike Yeah that’s the rumour, but you can't prove this. My belief – what I'm hearing is that Cunliffe has actually sold himself a bit better to the caucus and he may have picked up a few votes since the last leadership ballot. What you can say is that when Cunliffe went head to head with Shearer in the town hall meetings nearly two years ago, Cunliffe won those. I talked to a lot of people, I didn’t actually go to one but I talked to a lot of people who said yes he was better. Now that was Cunliffe versus Shearer. Cunliffe versus Robertson may have a different result. And I actually agree with what Stuart said, I have a vote and I'll be very interested to hear the speeches.
Rachel What went wrong in caucus, why did Cunliffe lose the faith if you like within caucus, what was it about him cos no one seems to be able to put their finger on this certainly to me about what he did wrong.
Mike I like the guy, I've known him for a long time but he polarises people.
Rachel Why does he polarise people?
Mike I really don’t know and if you ask that question people will say oh he's too ambitious. Well that is something to be lauded in a politician I would have thought, that’s a positive characteristic. He's capable of learning and I think he's learned a lot.
Rachel Okay let me see if we bring in now Jennie Michie, a long time Labour Party member and a blogger on the Standard. Good morning Jennie, you support David Cunliffe I think don’t you? Why do you support him?
Jennie Michie – Labour Party
Well firstly I'd just like to pay my respects to David Shearer. I think he's made a terrifically hard decision for all the right reasons, and he deserves our thanks and respects. I guess I'm gonna through my lot behind David Cunliffe because I want someone who can win, and win now, who can beat John Key, and be a leader in a Labour led government, and I think David Cunliffe's the man to do that.
Rachel Mike, who's likely to give Labour the best chance against Key in the next election?
Mike I would say Cunliffe, but I slightly disagree with what Stuart said about getting round the country. It's really important to be able to get on top of your opposition in question time in parliament, because there are dozens of political reporters going out for television, radio, newspapers, it's important to do that. The person who's most likely to do that I think is David Cunliffe but having said that Grant Robertson handles Key very well too.
Rachel Okay Jennie I want to raise something with you that’s you know, the issue clearly within Labour for some time now has been unity, trying to unify this party. Is it feasible do you think that the party could be unified if Cunliffe or Robertson were to do a deal? In other words whoever lost either came in at a high level potentially even Deputy, would that work?
Jennie I think that’s absolutely important. I think that we don’t want a deal behind closed doors. I absolutely agree with Stu we want to see a great roadshow, we want to see a great debate, we want to see democracy in action, and the members are absolutely panting to have a go and have their say about picking a leader, and then the next thing to do is to bring them together. I mean we have so much talent and we can't afford to let any of it be squandered. I think Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe would make a great team. I think the caucus is ready to be united and certainly the party is desperate for them to be united because without unity we will never be elected.
Rachel Mike, Labour I can remember back to the smacking legislation and the party took something of a hammering over that, which revealed I guess that there's a strong sort of socially conservative element within Labour. How would they view Grant Robertson so you think?
Mike That is a very good question Rachel. Labour is a broad church party and part of that sort of coalition is a significant group of social conservatives. I think they would be unhappy with Grant Robertson, but the interesting thing is that that group would never vote National, they just would not vote. And that was the real problem for Labour in the last general election and indeed the one before. We had the lowest turnout last election in 150 years, or since we've had democracy in New Zealand, 25% of the proposal got on the role and didn’t bother to vote, that’s nearly a million, three quarters of a million voters. And whoever is the leaders has gotta really focus on getting that group out voting and I think Cunliffe's got a better chance of doing that.
Rachel Okay, Grant Robertson Jennie says that he wants to be judged on his ability, not his sexuality. How do you think the socially conservatives might view Grant Robertson you know in the year 2013?
Jennie That’s right, I think it's not a big a deal as it used to be. You know we now have gay marriage, and it actually went through without that much of a fuss, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Having said that I think we'd be naïve to imagine that there would be no resistance to a gay Prime Minister at this point. I think some people might have a problem with it, but I certainly wouldn’t.
Rachel Okay Mike, are there any other names? We're talking about Cunliffe and Robertson, who else is likely possibly to throw their name in the hat?
Mike Possibly Shane Jones, and I'd like to see his hat in the ring.
Rachel Whether or not he would mobilise the Maori vote?
Mike Well yeah, but he'd also make the debates a lot more interesting.
Rachel I'm not sure he'd win over women.
Mike No no no, possibly not. Andrew Little I think it's far too early for Andrew and I think he needs a seat, the same could be said of Shane. I think they really need that electorate seat backing. But I'm interested in what Jennie said because you know Helen Clark actually adopted the Opposition when she made Michael Cullen the Deputy Leader, and that may well be what happens here. But I would also say it's a hell of a lot easier to generate unity in an election year than in the other two years, and we're nearly into an election year.
Rachel Alright Mike Williams, commentator, former Labour Party President, also Jennie Michie Labour Party member and a blogger on the Standard. Thank you both for you time this morning, much appreciated.