The Shearer leadership of the Labour Party has been an unmitigated disaster, or a slow-motion train wreck, as former Labour chairman Mike Williams colourfully put it. When the leadership election took place in December 2011 the Labour Party membership wanted David Cunliffe to head the party, but they were not allowed a vote. The parliamentary caucus chose the darling of the capitalist press instead.
Despite scandals and embarrassments continuously dogging the National Government, Shearer seemed unable to land any effective blows. Labour’s inability to subject the Government to scrutiny or confront National ideologically has been the secret to Key’s Teflon premiership. By default, it has often seemed that the Greens’ Russell Norman has been more the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, New Zealand First and the Greens have managed to find themselves to the left of Labour in Parliament on issue after issue.
The reason for Shearer’s failure is not parliamentary inexperience, inarticulateness or that he is too nice for the cut and thrust of politics. The central problem is his politics. What we have witnessed for a year and a-half is the ineffectualness of rightwing Labour.
Constantly seeking the approval of the business elite, and looking over their shoulders to the capitalist media, rightwing Labour has been unable to connect with and give a voice to the grievances of the working class. On the fundamentals, the rightwingers are hardly different from National. Their opposition to National, such as it has been, has had the character of going through the motions without any conviction. The impression is that behind the parliamentary scenes it is all pals together.
Shying away from any taint of class politics, Shearer has distorted genuine issues of by clothing them in Nationalism. The selling-off of public energy assets was made into an issue of foreign ownership. On housing, Shearer scraped the bottom of the barrel of opportunism with his anti-Chinese, no foreign ownership policy. But you cannot out-do the right on their own ground. All Shearer did with his populist anti-foreigner stand was reinforce Tory ideology. Labour did not get any opinion poll bounce out of this dog-whistle racism. It was Shearer’s last throw of the dice.