In the United States, John F Kennedy did it with his ‘a torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…” Bill Clinton did it with his “It’s about the economy stupid” and selecting his campaign song, Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow”. And Obama did it with his pitch to the disengaged and alienated voters with his “Yes We Can!” campaign slogan.
Here in New Zealand Micky Savage did it with his ‘One man one job’ tactic of getting people back into work so as to lift New Zealand out of the great depression.
After nine years of near totalitarian rule under Robert Muldoon, David Lange did it with a commitment to consensus and a pitch that every New Zealander, including Muldoon, had a roll to play in rebuilding a new New Zealand.
Helen Clark did it after the disintegration of the National-New Zealand First coalition under Jenny Shipley with her leadership and integrity pitch presenting the country with a commitment card, then systematically moving to address each point.
On every occasion a vision was presented. It did not always end as promised or anticipated, but in the beginning, on every occasion, a significant leader was able to engender a feeling of hope among the people and mobilise voters on election day.
Rarely, has New Zealand had the opportunity to elect a true States-person, a person such as David Lange, who had the oratory skills and gravitas to leverage New Zealand’s independent ethos to a status of significance on the world stage.This week, David Cunliffe rekindled hope.
At his launch there was a realisation that many hurdles must be overcome. So, as with all great adventures it begins with a thought. The questions are: can David Cunliffe lead Labour and the opposition parties to victory in 2014? Will the Labour caucus, membership, and affiliate unions embrace this man should he become this nation’s leader?
From his electorate office in working class New Lynn, a realisation was driven home to all who witnessed it that the Labour Party was being presented with a new beginning, a new chance. Cunliffe’s launch had all the hallmarks of a movement not just a campaign. And that’s why Cunliffe’s launch is the circuit-breaker Labour has been seeking since Helen Clark stood down from the leadership.
David Cunliffe’s launch demonstrated the symbolism of inclusion. Like Lange, Cunliffe referenced how he needed everyone in his party to get stuck in and get New Zealand back on track. But unlike Lange, Cunliffe understands economics, finance, and the vulnerabilities political leaders suffer when trusting others to advance an economic revolution in their name.
Cunliffe has been quick to own the message that Labour is fortunate to have such depth of talent as is underscored by the calibre of his competitors Grant Robertson and Shane Jones. He has demonstrated that unity, not factionalism, will be hallmark of his leadership – where everyone will have a role toward realigning our New Zealand to the true Kiwi way. And at his launch, he indicated how proud he would be to have Grant Robertson on his winning front-bench team.
The team effort was the message that was rammed home with a sincerity that caused the man’s voice to quiver. The emotion was not forced nor contrived. Cunliffe didn’t have a peeled onion in his pocket, ready to squeeze at the pre-planned moment. The emotion was real. That passion demonstrated a strength that did not emit simply from the man’s mind, but rather, it was holistic – it came from mind, heart, and soul. It portrayed strength.
David Cunliffe was surrounded by people from all walks of life. Tangatawhenua, Iwi and urban Maori, New Zealand born Kiwis and our Pacifika communities, and people who have arrived more recently. Blue collar and white collar workers, people who have fallen out of favour with the current National-led Government – the well, but out of work, and the unwell. Those who strive for gender equality were there, alongside those whose politics is defined by identity.This was no ‘rent-a-crowd’. Each person brought a constituency of their own. As an observer, one got a sense that they had reached out for representation, and, Cunliffe was there for them. It was that kind of support. The room was crammed with a strong sense of hope, and that was not lost on the Parliamentary press gallery reporters.
Cunliffe emits a sense that he knows his party and us. It is not a sympathy, nor an intellectual abstract concept. He connects to the point where all that becomes an empathy. But the difference between you and I is he has the ability to lead, when given the opportunity.
His style of leadership is more representative and solution-based than others who stand upon that elevation-of-office and look back down at us.
The connection at this week’s launch demonstrates an understanding that among us all lingers a potential that is today being arrested, for a multitude of reasons, and, in some cases, that potential has been exhausted. On Monday, David Cunliffe committed to doing something about that, to restoring opportunity for our children, to deliver a country to the next generation that is better, not worse, than what came before.
He indicated he would do away with a culture that embraces the more sinister elements of political expression that have become manifest within today’s New Zealand – where those who are finding it tough are pushed away, given labels, marginalized, and defined as parasites. Cunliffe committed to fairness, to changing that government-backed culture.
It is a vision that indicates a new beginning, as his campaign keywords indicate. This is the beginning of his party’s commitment to you.
We know this man disagrees with the National-led Government’s advance to embedding this spy culture in New Zealand – that dark cloud of sinister intent that has swept the world. Who would have thought twelve months ago just how darkly connected New Zealand had become to the wants of external superpowers. What has become of our independence? Can New Zealand again become that independent voice on the world stage that connects to billions on humanitarian, economically and environmentally sustaining principles?
One gets a sense that David Cunliffe is committed to reversing that subservience to the darker forces that lie within the US and other external powers – a reconnection of sorts that knits together New Zealanders with this nation’s proud heritage of independence where our standing on the world stage is not regarded by how many people we could collectively kill, but by the strength of the morality of our ethos, way of life, and argument.
And importantly, domestically, it is about the economy and anyone who says otherwise is stupid – as Bill Clinton once said. A well governed economy will provide opportunity, prosperity, and stability and will prepare us all to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Cunliffe has shown that when tag-teaming up with the best the opposition parties have to offer, great opportunities developed – for example, on identifying the problems within New Zealand’s manufacturing and export sectors. David Cunliffe, David Parker, Russel Norman, and Winston Peters joined forces with business and union counterparts to develop a cause-effect-solution methodology that would re-align our productive sectors to their offshore markets, develop once again regional economies and opportunities in the provinces, get people back into work rather than joining the increasing numbers of layoffs – which is in evidence under this current National-led Government.
Intervention was the style where a view emerged that a Government does not command all but it must assist all sectors to ensure domestic economy imbalances are identified and addressed – rather than be swept under the carpet. It is about making sure every business, every worker has a shot at making the lot of our country better.
There is now no room for a government that ignores, or does not want to fix, the problems that exist today.
David Cunliffe, Grant Robertson, and Shane Jones have yet to reveal their policy plans. But let it be said, these leaders all know their stuff. All can work toward creating a better New Zealand, and all of those relying on Labour to do its bit to create a Cabinet in Waiting movement will be happy with whoever gets to lead.
But only one can truly unite Labour and reconnect it to the provinces, the cities, and the people. And only one has demonstrated the leadership necessary to roll out a solution-based plan that will not only beat National in 2014 but create a watershed moment where New Zealand draws a line in the sand and truly gets on with the job.
But first, there is one hurdle to cross. Labour, the country is in your hands.