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Q+A Panel Discussion - Response to Labour Leadership Debate

Q + A
Hosted by SUSAN WOOD
In response to Labour Leadership Debate

SUSAN We’re with the panel – Dr Raymond Miller, Josie Pagani and Richard Prebble. Now, this is a pretty unenviable task, and I’m going to start with you, Richard. I mean, I think we’d all agree that David Shearer could not have done what any of those three men just did, but can you pick a winner?

RICHARD PREBBLE – Former Labour MP and ACT Party leader
Yes. It’s John Key. He would have loved that. I just listened to them all spending money without accounting for it. Just take the living wage one – it might sound good, but the way civil service wages work – they’re all connected to one another. That would mean that everyone standing in that panel would suddenly get a huge payrise because everybody’s pay would go up. John Key would have loved that debate. From my own point of view, I like what Shane Jones did because he was different from the other two. How the party members are going to do it – they’re actually not going to take much notice of that debate, I wouldn’t think.

SUSAN Josie, what do you think? I mean, you were actually at one of the Town Hall debates yesterday, so who do you think came out ahead?

JOSIE PAGANI – Former Labour Candidate
I think that was an excellent debate, actually. And in some ways, this call of unity for the Labour Party – I’m not sure that unity’s the biggest problem. The biggest problem is a healthy contest of ideas. And what you’re seeing there today, and we saw it yesterday even more so in front of members, you’ve got a sort of Martin Luther Cunliffe persona going on there. You’ve got both candidates, David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson, competing for the left vote, and you’ve very clearly got Grant Robertson saying, ‘I’m going back to the centre.’ And, actually, Richard, I would have to say that since you, in the Labour Party, words like ‘industry’, ‘progress’, ‘transformation’, pro-‘development’ – these have been code words in the Labour Party for, ‘We’re going to betray you. We’re going to betray Labour principles.’ Well, hearing Shane Jones today stand up and use those words and say, ‘Actually, we’re taking those words back. They belong to the labour movement.’ For me, Shane won today simply because it doesn’t matter if he wins the leadership. He stood up; he’s given a voice for Labour – a pro-development, pro-industry, pro-progress voice – which was great to hear.

SUSAN And pro-business, because I think business, listening to Shane, would certainly not have been frightened.

Dr RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
Exactly. It’s very interesting because someone with the popularity and range of political skills of John Key come along once in a generation. What Labour is looking for is someone who will chip away at the weaknesses they see in John Key’s leadership. And all three of them, I thought, did very well. For me, the one who probably came through was Grant Robertson, I think, because he’s the unknown quantity in a sense. Both the others have had extensive background within the Labour Party and within a Labour government. Grant Robertson used his old kind of student politics skills to get in there and make his points. But I thought all three of them really did well. No one did their candidacy any harm. But I must say that they are speaking primarily to the Labour Party. That’s why the talk about the left and so on, because whoever gets it will then start shifting the party into the centre ground to try and get votes off National at the next election. But right now, they’re speaking to Labour.

JOSIE I think that’s right, and I think that’s the problem is that— Look, I grew up in England in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I heard a lot of wonderful speeches from Labour Party leaders in opposition. And the problem is that’s not necessarily an election-winning strategy to go for the left. Now, living wage – Richard’s laughing here. Living wage, for me, that’s a fantastic policy, and it’s a policy that upsets people like Richard, so that’s great. But when you’re bringing in things like— I mean, yesterday I think David Cunliffe mentioned ‘the great rising red tide is coming to get you, John Key’, well, if you start putting man-ban back on the table, if you start talking about increasing taxes, what working New Zealanders hear is, ‘Oh, you’re going to put up my taxes.’ And there’s a danger that some of the fantastic policies on jobs and wages get a bit lost in this bid to win over the left of the Labour Party, and I think it’s a problem.

RICHARD It’s a problem with primaries. It’s a problem with primaries. I mean, take Governor Romney in America last year – in order to win the Republican nomination, he said silly things on, say, immigration which actually cost him the Latino vote, which is huge in America, and it made the Republicans on a presidential level unelectable. I think some of the promises that they are making to win this nomination is going to make Labour unelectable. In fact, I’m now looking and thinking that Mr Norman from the Greens would actually be a more sensible finance minister than either of those two.

JOSIE And you’ve just killed his candidacy.

SUSAN Raymond?

RAYMOND Yes, I think we’ve got to return to a point that Corin made when he questioned David Cunliffe, who I suppose is the front-runner, and that has to do, really, with his popularity within the caucus. It’s interesting that David Cunliffe kept talking about unity – the need for unity within the party.

RICHARD So did Grant Robertson, which makes all of us wonder, ‘Hey, how divided are they, if that’s the number one issue?’

JOSIE Well, pretty divided since your days.

RAYMOND Yeah, we must remember that, in fact, David Shearer defeated David Cunliffe within the caucus 18 to 20 months ago, so what is the problem with David Cunliffe? He has the ministry, he’s been in the background as a minister, he has 12, 14 years in Parliament, he’s a good communicator, he’s got the business background that Labour is looking for, but there is something called emotional intelligence, and, you know, he has tended to rub people up the wrong way. And I think within the Labour caucus there are those people who feel he’s been too ambitious and he’s been too self-interested and he really needs to reflect more of the kind of collective value—

RICHARD Oh, look, I’ll actually tell you that’s not how they do it. They would forgive him all of those things if he could do something else. What the MPs are actually thinking about is, ‘Hey, who can make us the government?’ and then they look to see who’s a vote-getter, and then they do it objectively. They don’t do it by statements – ‘hey, I’m wonderful’. They go back and say, ‘Well, how did you do in your own electorate last election?’ And when you look at all three, one candidate comes out as awful, one comes out at sort of average and one looks like he might not be bad. The one who’s awful is David Cunliffe. He represents New Lynn, where everybody votes in New Lynn— it used to be very hard to find a National voter. He only got a 5000 majority. David Shearer, who they’ve replaced, in the next-door seat of Mount Albert, which is not as safe, he got 10,000 majority. So that’s an awful figure. Then you go and look at Shane Jones. Now, he ran in against, what’s his name, Pita Sharples. He should have won. He didn’t. Why do I say he should have won? When you look at the list vote in that seat, more people voted—

RAYMOND But my point, Richard—

RICHARD No, no, hang on, mate.

RAYMOND …simply that Labour wants to unite the party—

RICHARD People should hear these figures.

JOSIE This is how he used to run the Labour caucus.

SUSAN Last point quickly, Richard.

RICHARD This is how MPs should really do it. When you look at Grant Robertson, he’s actually holding a truly marginal seat. I won Wellington Central, so it can be won by the National Party. He won it. He is clearly a better vote-getter than either of the other two, but none of them are very good, because if you go and have a look at John Key in Helensville, which used to be held by the Labour Party—

SUSAN All right, let’s—

RICHARD …John Key’s got a majority of 23,000—

SUSAN Raymond—

RICHARD That’s how good those guys ought to be.

RAYMOND I mean, if I was a Labour politician, I’d be wanting to win the next election. I’d be wanting to win the next election as a united party. They can’t win it if there’s not unity there. They’ll be looking for the person who can do that, and that’s why I think they’re looking very closely at whether David Cunliffe can, in fact, deliver the commitment to the party that they’re looking for. He’s got all the skills.

JOSIE But I think, Raymond, the problem with that, I mean, you’ve got to look at the— they all talk about 800,000 who didn’t vote—

SUSAN Didn’t vote.

JOSIE The lost tribe of Labour, they keep calling it. Well, there’s been a debate in the party, I know, as to whether or not that 800,000 is waiting for Che Guevara to turn up and lead the Labour Party and they’ll come out and vote Labour, or, as the sort of information we’ve got on that group of people shows us, they’re brown, they’re young and they’re living in the regions. Now, you look at those three candidates – which of those three candidates is going to appeal to brown, young and regional? And you’d have to say it’s Shane Jones. Now, I know he’s the underdog. His only pathway, really, is to become the public’s favourite candidate, the one who’s appealing the most.

SUSAN You sound like you’re picking him. You’ve got a vote in for this, haven’t you?

JOSIE Well, I, listening to that today—

SUSAN You’ve got a vote in this. You sound like you’re—

JOSIE Listening to that today, and again I bring this back to you, Richard, I feel it’s time for the Labour Party to say, talking about investment and industry and progress, these are core Labour values, and they have been sullied because Richard took— Richard and his mates took the party to the centre and then they leapt right—

SUSAN Isn’t it time you got over that? It’s a long time ago.

RICHARD It’s actually 30 years ago. Get real.

JOSIE But there’s still suspicion. There’s suspicion that that’s why. I mean, Phil Goff and David Shearer didn’t take the Labour Party to the right, so why is it that we feel now we’ve got to prove our left-wing credentials all the time? It’s because the party still fears a betrayal of somebody coming in and going, ‘We’ll take your Labour principles of progress, and we’ll take them over here and lose them.’ Well, we’re getting them back.

SUSAN Right, we’ll leave it there, panel. Very good, panel. Thank you.


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