The bloggers on: David Shearer under pressure

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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27th April, 2012 Leave a Comment

Shearer and Robertson. Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZH

Reports that David Shearer’s chief of staff, Stuart Nash, is on his way out, to be replaced by Alastair Cameron (not to be confused with another Alastair C) has prompted a number of bloggers to wonder what it all says about the new Labour leader, who has failed to make any real impact in the polls in his first few months, despite bad headlines for the National party.

As Claire Trevett reports in the Herald, Nash was thought to have been pushing a “non-politician” approach for the Labour leader – urging him to avoid getting stuck into oppositional fisticuffs. That was reportedly in conflict with the advice being proffered by other members of his team, including press secretary Fran Mold.

Cameron, meanwhile, is said to be a close ally of Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson.

At the leftwing Standard blog, Mike Smith cheers the new appointment in the course of a short Cameron biography:

Cameron has worked most recently at MAF, and before that was a senior associate at Buddle Finlay in Wellington, where he was a public and commercial lawyer with a specialty in climate change. He spent three years as an adviser to Marion Hobbs when she was Environment Minister … He is also the Chair of the New Zealand Aids Foundation Trust Board. He’s a very good choice.

Rewind a week or so, however, and fellow Standard blogger Irish Bill is in a more fretful mood. Cameron seems to be a “nice enough bloke”, but “he’s very much [deputy Labour leader] Grant Robertson’s man. As are most of the staff in the leader’s office now”.

He continues:

It’s been no secret around the beltway that Robertson is preparing to make a play for the leadership of the Labour party and, despite my best hopes, it appears the punt taken on David Shearer has failed – a fact shown by the way his speech today has sunk like a stone …

It’s starting to feel like a leadership challenge is inevitable. If it is I can only hope that the floor’s opened to all contenders and it’s done openly and with the inclusion of the broader party.

The strain in the Labour leader’s office is well-known, says Kiwiblog’s David Farrar, and Shearer’s claim that to be unaware of any such thing was hard to believe:

If David is not aware of the tension within his office, he is the only person in Wellington who isn’t aware of it.

A week earlier – before confirmation of the change in Shearer’s CoS – Farrar had written:

It is too early to say Shearer will be rolled, but it is obvious from reading around the left-wing blogs that there is significant discontent amongst the activist base – especially in Auckland.

What is interesting is that the Auckland activists are trying to lump Robertson in with Shearer, so that if Shearer falls, Cunliffe will be able to win a leadership battle against Robertson.

Cunliffe has come back from his leadership loss revitalised and has been impressing many in Labour. I think Robertson would still beat Cunliffe in a contest, but the “Anyone but Cunliffe” faction has diminished in recent months.

If there is any change, I would expect it to occur either late 2012 or at the latest February 2013. If Shearer makes it past that, then I think it would be too late for a change.

Grim reading for Shearer over at the Dim-Post, meanwhile, where Danyl Mclauchlan writes:

My sentiments over the past few months, informed by chats with those few Labour staffers/members who still talk to me have been (a) excitement when Shearer became leader (b) apprehension when he appointed Nash as his Chief of Staff – you want the CoS to lead you into the next election, not leave six months out from it to go run for office himself (c) appalled stupification when he re-appointed [as an adviser John] Pagani, who (fairly or unfairly) seems to be regarded as the architect of Goff’s worst blunders (d) deflation when it became apparent that Shearer didn’t have any sense of direction and (e) resignation that Shearer isn’t working, became leader far too soon, and that there will be a leadership coup, but that the caucus isn’t ready for it yet so short of a crisis there will be another six months of drift.

Rightwing provocateur Cameron Slater aka Whale Oil, reckons Cameron as chief of staff signals that it’s curtains for Shearer. “I call time on David Shearer’s leadership of Labour,” he writes.

A chief of staff is the one person that must be unquestionably loyal. The COS should be person the Leader should never have to doubt. The leader relies on the COS to keep an ear to the ground and act in the leader’s interests even if that means the Leader is deliberately inoculated from matters he/she is best not even knowing about.

Heather Simpson, Richard Long, Wayne Eagleson would die in the ditch for their boss. The question is – who is Alastair Cameron’s boss?

The current leader of the Labour Party, or the next?

At, the Gay Blade addresses the question of “the velvet mafia”. The “nut-case blogs are at it already”, he says; they are alighting on the sexuality of Robertson and Cameron:

The Great Gay Conspiracy, the Velvet Mafia, the Homintern. Over cocktails or lattes, quietly chatting in gyms, passing coded messages by the songs DJs play, we push deeper into the social order.

GB doesn’t link to the source of such balderdash (“I don’t want to link to them and boost their pageviews”), but I can’t say I’ve seen any of it. Possibly it’s somewhere in the unmediated swill of comment threads.

While Gay Blade says “these comments are nothing but old, deep-rooted homophobia”, he nevertheless concludes:

It’s true – there are gay networks. Just as there are networks of lawyers, networks of Grammar and Kings’ Old Boys and networks of farmers. Humans have a tendency to cluster together with people who share similar views and interests. It’s actually a good idea, it means a group can organise and get its voice heard, which is kind of what politics and democracy is about.

I say good luck to Alastair Cameron. He’ll need it. Even though I’m a natural Labourite, David Shearer hasn’t impressed me yet, and I can’t see him leading the party to victory. Maybe the Velvet Mafia will be able to change all that though. Heh heh heh (Ooops did I say that out loud?)

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