I remember seating myself at Prague one sunny Auckland afternoon, A Perfect Spy in one hand and a cool, refreshing, pretentious European beer in the other. Living the Auckland high life if you will (with the exception of the book bit of course, because Aucklanders don’t really do the whole ‘book reading’ thing). Then, in walks a familiar face. He starts saying ‘Hi’ to people, he even nods to me, and engages in a witty conversation with the barman that went something like this:
Bartender: Hey David, how are you?
David: I’m good doing well
Bartender: Good good
David: Absolutely good
Of course, it didn’t go exactly like that, because I didn’t really take much notice at the time. The conversation might not have even ventured as far as ‘good’ and instead just been different versions of ‘hello’. Then, after his whirlwind schmoozing of the bartender and others, he was out within 15-20minutes with his beer a quarter-sipped.
If I had had greater political foresight I would have written my observations down in my moleskine notebook(not that I have one, which is probably how you can tell I’m not a serious political journalist), and later extrapolated it into some tell-all political biography. But alas, I didn’t really have the foresight, or the moleskine. All I had was a book about an English spy that I didn’t really want to scribble on.
I recognised him though. He had just been involved in a high profile electorate battle for Mt Albert, where he’d established his man-chops by beating a gaffe-prone Asian lady in keeping with the best traditions of New Zealand history.
So what am I to think of this whole David Shearer vs Cunliffe thing. Given that I’ve had almost no contact with either of them. According to Shearer’s groupies, I should really pay attention to David Shearer’s United Nutters Experience. This is far more noble and relevant than Cunliffe’s experience at the Boston Consulting Group(preceded by a Harvard education at the Kennedy School of Government), or John Key’s high-profile career at Merrill Lynch. But it’s not like his stint at the UN would’ve been a completely altruistic endeavour is it? In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shearer had been paid a similar amount to what those at mid-level posts at BCG or Merrill Lynch end up getting. He just wouldn’t have had the performance reviews/demands along or the constant threat of dismissal to go with it.
This begs the question though, what did David Shearer actually do overseas? I hear all these commentators mentioning that he has negotiated with warlords in an action-hero-esque manner. But if this is all that’s needed to govern in an established Western democracy then surely Chuck Norris should be a prime candidate too? I’m sure he must be looking for a new country to inhabit given his prophecy of ‘one hundred years of darkness’ post-Obama. My point though, is that I have no idea whether Shearer did a good job in Iraq, or even how his job performance there is at all relevant to being Prime Minister of a country like New Zealand. After all, presumably something like giving away toilets might have been an achievement in Iraq, but we might not react with the same open-eyed glee if David Shearer attempted to bribe us with a free Port-A-loo.
Shearer’s minders have tried to target this problem of relevance by dropping in references to David’s UN experience into his speeches every once in a while. David’s UN experience convinced him that housing and shelter were essential for example. Well sure, but he could have also come to this conclusion if he’d have been strung out on crack-cocaine and foaming at the mouth on an open sidewalk in West Auckland.
And his solutions/attacks have been woefully simple. Simple is not bad in and of itself. But his simple ideas sort of dribble out in a confused set of ‘uhms’, ‘ahs’, & extraneous words, way out of proportion to each idea’s worth. It would be different if Shearer were to espouse the theory of relativity at the end of it all, but he doesn’t. In fact, most of his thoughts & policy proposals seem more Incredible Hulk than Bruce Banner. Although maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Shearer to be more Hulk-like in his dealings with the media. In fact, he might end up with more succinct media-friendly messages:
“See Cunliffe. Shearer SMASH!”
“House shortage. Shearer BUILD!”
“Unemployment high. Shearer CRY!”
The question for me is not electability. I have no idea if Shearer is electable or not. As far as things go, he doesn’t seem any more or less electable to me than Cunliffe. The problem is that if you compare the ‘Hulk-smash”-like attacks of Shearer to the nuanced, yet clear, analysis of Cunliffe then Shearer’s deficiences are painfully clear. The Labour Party has a rare commodity in Cunliffe, a guy with media skills, a brain, and a personality that goes beyond that of a big green Marvel character. Why they would then go and choose the other guy, is beyond me.