Sunday, September 15, 2013

The winner is…

Official NZ Labour Party Leader Election Results.
The new Leader of the NZ Labour Party is David Cunliffe. He won a clear victory and has a mandate from party members to lead the party to victory in next year’s election. Well done on a great campaign, and congratulations!

Cunliffe won in the first round with 51.15% of the vote. Grant Roberston won 32.97% and Shane Jones had 15.88% (official results above, click to embiggen; SOURCE). The fact that Cunliffe won a majority in the first round is about as clear a message as there can be: Labour Party members wanted Cunliffe, so he has a clear mandate from them. Pundits immediatley pointed out that Cunliffe did less well among the party’s caucus in Parliament, suggesting that the party was “divided”. However, they overlooked an important fact: Politicians can read election results, and they know that Cunliffe has a clear mandate, so their job now is to move forward with Cunliffe as the Leader—and they will.

I gave Cunliffe my second preference for the reasons I listed yesterday. But as Labour Party General Secretary Tim Barnett said on today’s livestream announcement, supporting one candidate did not mean we opposed the others. David Cunliffe has a lot going for him, as I also said yesterday, and from what I saw, the campaign he ran for Leader was about as good as such a campaign can be. That bodes well for the General Election campaign next year.

I’ve said all along that defeating the National/Act Government next year is the most important task facing the Labour Party. To do so, it must be united. Cunliffe says that, too: "We must beat John Key In 2014 and we will only do that by mobilising the entire party, the affiliates, the membership and the Caucus."

Of course ideology also matters, and based on what Cunliffe said during the campaign for Leader, I have every reason to believe that he’ll leave the “Third Way” in the dustbin of history. As I said yesterday, Labour has to give voters a reason to change the government, and “That can’t be done simply by portraying Labour as “National Lite”, but rather as an alternative to National, a change in direction, not just more of the same.” This is why the ideological shift matters so much.

Pundits in the NZ news media have been saying that whoever won the Leadership election would tack rightward because that’s what “always” happens. As evidence, they cited the example of US primary election campaigns, which shows how little they understand US politics: Republicans never move back to just right of centre anymore, but stay on the hard right, and, increasingly, Democrats are staying on the liberal side. Accuracy aside, those pundits entirely miss the point.

The reality is that tacking rightward would again make Labour a kinder, gentler version of National, and that doesn’t win elections for Labour—being Labour does. People want an alternative to the neoconservative economic philosophy of National/Act, and they want an end to being victimised by their own government. What they want are jobs and a fair go, and Labour can only deliver that by setting out on a new course. The pundits may not like that, but the people who vote, will.

So, I congratulate David Cunliffe on his victory, and I also congratulate him, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones for running decent, principled campaigns that stayed focused on the issues, no matter what the news media, pundits and some partisans did on the sidelines. I’ve never seen such a dignified political contest before, and all three can claim credit for that. The Labour Party hierarchy, especially Tim Barnett, also did a fantastic job of organising the campaign and keeping members informed, so they should get congratulations, too.

Now, with that done, off we go—forward to victory in 2014!

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