Leadership, Popularity and Politics


David Shearer's resignation was obviously a real surprise to many of his Party colleagues, even though it has been on the cards for some time. I have heard few people say anything negative about Shearer's character and he appeared to be a genuinely nice guy. The manner of his resignation was an honorable and honest one. He had obviously tried hard to be what everyone wanted him to be but continually missed the mark and it was his own awareness of this that probably dictated his decision. His lack of success as a leader reveals much about what it takes to be successful in politics.

Shearer ticked all the boxes for Labour, he was internationally recognised for his humanitarian endeavors and had been successful in numerous leadership roles. On paper his credentials placed him on a higher plane than John Key, whose money trader past provided little evidence of empathy towards those less fortunate than himself or the potential to win the hearts of a wider constituency.

Sadly Labour have learned that the real popularity contest that determines a successful leader isn't the one decided within their caucus but the public one shaped by the television media. Their new leadership voting rules will hopefully produce a leader capable of challenging John Key, who has been able to easily dance around the previous two.

More than one commentator has observed that any successful political leader needs a degree of "mongrel" in their personality and Helen Clark recently referred to one of the prerequisites of leadership is really wanting it. Shearer often appeared as if he was driven by duty rather than personal ambition and mongrel is not the first thing one would attribute to him.

Mike Williams mentioned on Nine to Noon that Clark had also faced a high level of public rejection while her party struggled in the polls (it was actually far more extreme than what Shearer had faced). Under Clark, Labour had dropped to less than half of where it is currently polling and her personal support was around 2%, it was her determination and self belief that enabled her to become one of New Zealand's most successful and enduring leaders.

Labour has a difficult job ahead, they need to choose a new leader who has an abundance of ego, who actually wants the job, can think on their feet and can produce a sound bite on cue. Popular Prime Ministers of the past have also given the impression that they know what they are doing and where they are going (even if they didn't).

Meanwhile, we Greens already have two highly effective co-leaders with eleven years experience between them. I am hoping we will see more of them as Labour spends the next few weeks choosing someone who will have the following twelve months to prove themselves. While I am happy with our own leadership I wish Labour well in their search because we still need a strong and united Labour Party as we head towards the next election.



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