What’s All This About A Leadership Coup?

NZ Labour Party leader David Shearer - image by Selwyn Manning.

NZ Labour Party leader David Shearer - image by Selwyn Manning.
NZ Labour Party leader David Shearer – image by Selwyn Manning.
It’s an understatement to say there’s a lot of speculation flowing from all sides of the political spectrum on whether or not Labour leader David Shearer is facing a leadership challenge.

Let’s look at what we do know…

This post began as a response to questions that Rosie, a regular commenter on TDB put to Martyn on his post: Labour Party Coup Watch – The twitter coup.

My response is probably better here as a post.

In my view, what’s happening here is a destabilisation campaign. The question is who is behind it. The right is attempting to capitalise on it and claim itself as having the proof of Labour being rudderless. But the right wants this to bleed on and on, as that will benefit National in the polls, in the debating chamber, its relationship with the media and the public service. The right’s claim of proof is clearly nonsense.

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But, the rumours have been emitting from Labour itself. That said, no caucus member is going to be caught out being a first-hand source of the rumours. Buffers are being used instead.

This makes it difficult if not near impossible for those outside the loop to get a handle on what’s really happening. But, the destabilisation tactic is often used as a prelude to achieving a goal of rolling a leader. Is that happening now?
Like we saw occur across the ditch in Australia a destabilisation campaign can go on for ages, breaking down a leader until the leader doesn’t know who to trust or really what to say.

It’s always ugly, and raw.

What is clear is, for NZ Labour, three things have come into alignment:

  • David Shearer is being held accountable for a perceived inability to convince a satisfactory number of those polled to vote for him and Labour
  • Julia Gillard’s removal from the ALP leadership in favour of Kevin Rudd has seen a surge in support for the ALP (elevating a view that it may not be too late to replace David Shearer with another who is match-fit)
  • The gender selection issue exposed division within the party, and questioned David Shearer’s leadership style.

What seems to have occurred is these three elements have caused everyone who is interested to add up 1+2+3=?

That ‘?’ represents a multitude of questions including, why now, who, what faction, how, and when… Currently there are no clear answers to those Qs.

What we were all hearing was the Grant Robertson group, Andrew Little group and those who support David Cunliffe were talking about ‘a’ future. The rumours suggested a Robertson-Little leadership may form with Cunliffe being elevated into Finance. Was it true? No one can say. If anyone acquired confirmation from each of those three factions, then they would have run with it. But we didn’t. In fact, as Martyn said in his piece, Cunliffe’s people were not suggesting any letter had been signed and presented. And Cunliffe himself went on Twitter last night to say suggestions that a coup was on were “ridiculous”.

Some journalists and pundits who are attuned to the way these things roll have been seduced into running too early with a ‘the coup is on!’ call.

I know Duncan Garner and he will have judged he had enough info from inside Labour to make that call. Then, once he did, his source quickly distanced him/herself from it.


Because this is probably a destabilising campaign and it is not the time for signatures to be be applied to a piece of paper.

Will that time be soon? Only Labour’s caucus can answer that and at the moment it is unified in saying no his leadership is safe. Remember though, in politics timelines are very subjective.

From here, Labour can continue to pour cold water over this, Shearer can demonstrate his leadership style, and Labour can play for time until the voting public sees all this stuff as a tangent to the real issues and real political solutions to real problems.

Or, it can do what the ALP did and replace a leader who for whatever reason has not yet convinced a swinging constituency to support his and Labour’s policies.


  1. Thanks Selwyn.

    I still think Labour are a failed cause – The have failed over and over and I know cynical/pragmatic people will say they are the only option. Really, were is the Hope – Direction – Joy – Options?

    Even if there is a coup tomorrow – will you really want to vote Labour – will you really hold your nose again and get you legs cut off anyway? Again? Are we all that bloody stupid?

    We need to be adults here and realize this is a political party which serves no other interest, than it’s self interest – It’s only real difference from National now is – that it will throw a few tid bits for the poor. And as such they should be bloody thankful! At least the Tories are more honest about hating the bottom 50%.

    Coup, no coup – Labour are dead to me. They sold there soul to the free market – they lost the right to talk for working people, the poor, and the disposed. They already became the lackeys of the rich and faceless.

    • I agree they failed miserably a long time ago and I quit them then in the 80s. However I don’t think Selwyn is saying here that we need to hold them up as the great white hope, he is merely commenting on all of what is going on with the so called ‘leadership’ of the labour party. Labour long ago gave up the right to the votes of the poor but still manage to suck them in. They have no credibility.

  2. Could it be that this mischief has been fabricated in the National spin-doctor HQs as a way of distracting the public from the mass of disgraceful policies and laws going through the Parliament? Not that Labour is not capable of shooting themselves in the foot time and time again.

    As a lifelong Labour voter, I despair for the state the Party is in. They’ve lost their soul, they lack leadership, they need a total cleanout, and one year before 2014 election is simply not enough. And I can’t stand the thought of another National government term.

    It’s all just too depressing.

    • AMRITE – Yes, I am also sooo depressed, and scared of the future for this country. I am thinking every day, why I am still here, and why perhaps I should rather consider leaving this place for good.

      The population is also now so manipulated, divided, scared for their own individual security and survival, there is no cohesion, no unity, no connectivity amongst wide parts of society these days.

      And this government wants it and takes advantage of this ruthlessly.

      I am also astonished there has not been a new party founded that could take opportunity of the situation, and attract those progressive minded, liberal, and left of centre voters, to challenge the status quo. Maybe all potential political talent of an alternative orientation have left long ago, and there is no more hope, but a take over of Labour by a group that can offer a better agenda?

      Sad situation, really, but that could also mean to much potential, if only one has the ideas, the energy, fire and gift of the gab to get people motivated and excited.

      The waiting game is terrible. The sooner Shearer goes the better, that is my assessment. Do it soooon, please, Robertson or Cunliffe, Little is not up to it, as he has no real charisma, I am afraid.

  3. Replacing Shearer will only have a positive effect if David Cunliffe becomes leader. Otherwise they might as well stick with Shearer. Cunliffe is the only one with the potential to electrify the electorate.

  4. I just wish they’d hurry the fuck up and get it over with if they’re going to do it, the sooner the better. J. Q. Public hates these knife-sharpening sessions with a passion so the sooner the blood is let out the sooner we can all move on.

  5. “What we were all hearing was the Grant Robertson group, Andrew Little group and those who support David Cunliffe were talking about ‘a’ future. The rumours suggested a Robertson-Little leadership may form with Cunliffe being elevated into Finance. Was it true? No one can say.”

    Well, it is quite simple, yes, it is either a first attempt to test the waters, or a gradual destabilising campaign by someone, who belongs to a camp, or even is one main player, who wants to prepare the caucus and the public for the inevitable.

    Any sensible person, who follows politics, who is in tune, who reads between the lines, and who knows Shearer by now, how he under-performs, who knows also how the Nats are afraid of a more popular leader to replace Shearer, must see, it is overdue that a challenge is put to the leadership.

    Every day counts, and I am totally in agreement with Chris Trotter on this one, Shearer will NOT last another 60 days!

    The public hardly notice him, they mostly have a dim view of him, they are at best indifferent, and Key gets away with unbelievable double standards, untruths, cover ups and so forth, selling NZ out to the US and other interests.

    Did anybody watch Campbell Live tonight? If you did, your eyes must now be wide open, unless you suffer from conditions making it impossible to make rational assessments.

    This country needs to get sorted, and Shearer is the last one who will do it. He maybe a good minister of tertiary education or something else, he is NOT a leader and must go.

    There are those various differing personalities and fractions in a rather poor standard caucus Labour has, so anyone even daring to think of raising questions is afraid, not to take too great a risk. Hence the pull back last night, or over the night.

    But the Hipkins and other defenders of Shearer cannot be ignorant forever, they cannot find excuses forever, the incapability of Shearer to lead Labour even close to victory in 2014 must be so damned obvious, it borders on treason to not challenge Shearer now.

    The sooner the better, and that is what the dumb remaining caucus members have to get into their thick brains, delaying the inevitable will lose you another election, help NatACT, leave Key in office until after 2014 and cause endless distress, harm and depression for much of the population.

    Get the damned job done, please, that is what I think, and I believe I am not that much alone.


  6. David Shearer destabilises David Shearer. Nobody else needs to.

    If he had a loyalty oath sworn and signed in every MP’s blood, it still wouldn’t make his leadership secure, because he would still be the same hopelessly lost, pitiable figure. There’s nothing anybody can do about that.

    The caucus can be whipped into line. But the voters can’t be. And they have the final say.

    So if he remains as Labour leader, the only possible conclusion is that the Labour caucus – or at least, the people who run it – would rather lose under Shearer, than win under Cunliffe or anybody else.

  7. When something is working THIS badly it needs fixing. Shearer, nice guy that he is, has a credibility issue with the voting public. His actual or perceived failings are an active obstruction to Labour providing GENUINE opposition to what is a dishonest and vicious government. Change needs to come and come NOW! Anything other will see 3 more years of this Tory shite and we, as a country, can’t afford or sustain that. And with the non-Tory part of New Zealand’s political spectrum BEGGING for a Labour Party who will REALLY take the fight to Key et al, it is obvious to EVERYONE except, it appears a majority of NZLP MPs, that a change MUST happen! Andrew Little? OH FFS. He has the charisma of a boot. Key and his cronies have provided more than enough ammunition to see them decimated but NZLP can’t even load the weapon. A new leader, some traditional working class values, and some GENUINE opposition. Only then will we see the smile wiped off the face of the “nice Mr Key. But, NZLP, bloody well get on with it! Now! NZ is waiting!

  8. I think you are right about the destabilisation campaign. Hopefully this doesn’t go on for too long as it’ll be very damaging to Labour. I think there are elements within caucus who initially supported Shearer who are having second thoughts.
    Because of the changes in the constitution the ‘ABC’ faction and old guard (you know – the folks who’ve been in parliament for 30 years) can’t just knife Shearer and install their chosen replacement, they need to win a party/union/caucus leadership vote. It was very close last time just within caucus and with the involvement of a member vote they know there is a very good chance that Cunliffe could beat any of Robertson, Little or Jones. It seems to me that this is the main reason the plotters have not moved yet. The problem is this whole ABC nonsense – it’s an oft repeated sentiment that some in the Labour caucus would prefer to lose under Shearer than win under Cunliffe.’
    I think all sides owe it to the membership and the voting public to bring this to a head. A divided caucus does nobody any favours and Shearer mumbling and bumbling along till 2014 while half his caucus undermines him and plots against him is a terrible idea. There needs to be a leadership vote and, like in Aussie, there needs to be a pact that the losers will quit. If Cunliffe is selected then he needs to be able to clear out the ABC faction and old guard who are undermining him and likewise if he loses then he needs to take himself out of the equation to give the new leadership the best chance possible of running a united team through to 2014.
    May the best candidate win!

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