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The War for Helen’s succession has begun

21/05/2008

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Phil Goff video clip from that interview on altTV [hat tip Tane at The Standard]

Much coverage in the papers and on blogs.

Audrey Young, once and then once again, and John Armstrong both at NZ Herald. Colin Espiner also in his blog on Stuff.

As Audrey Young notes in this piece:

The interview was with actor and broadcaster Oliver Driver on the Let’s be Frank show. Mr Goff’s comments opened the door for National leader John Key to raise the leadership issue in Parliament.

Helen Clark, Labour leader for 14 1/2 years, hit back: “As the member is the fifth leader of the National Party I have dealt with, I would say there are rather more loyalty issues over there, including one from the person sitting next to him [deputy leader Bill English].”

Labour’s caucus closed ranks last night and no MP the Herald spoke to was prepared to criticise Mr Goff.

But what happens after the election has been the subject of much internal discussion in Labour for months.

Mr Goff is seen as Helen Clark’s likely successor if Labour loses badly.

Steve Maharey was once seen as a contender from the left, but he is retiring to become vice-chancellor of Massey University.

Trevor Mallard’s prospects have faded over the past two years as controversies have enveloped him.

David Cunliffe is thought to have leadership ambitions as well but is inexperienced and may stand more of a show as deputy.

No, not Boy Wonder Cunliffe.

In her blog piece Young speculates that Goff made a gaffe:-

Phil Goff has breached political convention and openly admitted that not only might Labour lose the election but, if so, he could be interested in the leadership.

While both those things are widely known, it is not done speak aloud about alternative leadership or admit the possibility of defeat. That is politics 101.

Goff’s offending comments were made a couple weeks ago to Oliver Driver’s niche TV show Let’s be Frank and will screen tonight on Alt TV.

They are an extraordinary lapse for such a seasoned politician and canvassing the issue of defeat and leadership is the last thing the Labour Government needs in Budget week of election year.

John Armstrong thinks differently:-

The body is still breathing – just. But some of the family already seem to be fighting over the corpse.

It is a sure sign that a Government is on its last legs when its members admit they might lose the coming election and discuss – even in passing – what might happen to their party afterwards.

Phil Goff can talk all he likes about “media beat-ups”. And he sure did his best to talk his way out of the embarrassment inflicted on the Prime Minister and Labour by his loose remarks in an interview on Alt TV.

But all his placatory smiles and patter could not erase what he said in that interview on Oliver Driver’s Let’s Be Frank show.

The trouble is Goff was exactly that – frank. The more he talked about not being defeatist, the more defeatist he sounded.

He may have stated the obvious in saying “there’s a prospect we might lose”. However, no matter how dire things might be looking – and they do look pretty dire for Labour right now – no politician worth his salt admits the possibility of defeat. Never. Full-stop. Period. And certainly not a politician as smart, seasoned, politically wired, competent and ultra-careful as Goff.

Adam is with Armstrong on this. Goff knew precisely what he was going. Adam thinks this was well planned. Goff has been positioning himself for some time now, including speeches and comments designed to show the left faction within Labour that he cleaves to the true faith.

Look at this quote, which Tracy Watkins included in her Dominion Post piece:-

“There is no question about leadership at the moment. There is 100 per cent support for Helen Clark and I have been 100 per cent in support of her right through this term of office … The question about leadership will take place at the point in the future when Helen Clark feels that she is going to move on to something else. That point has not yet arisen. We are not looking at losing the election, we are looking at fighting through to the election with a good chance of winning that election.”

A very carefully worded statement of support.

Colin Espiner posted in his blog at Stuff:-

Granted Goff didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already. You’d have to be deaf and blind to not know the Mount Roskill MP has been grooming himself to take over from Helen Clark ever since the pair left university.

It’s also true that Goff has never denied he was interested in taking over, either. But I can’t recall him ever being quite so explicit as he was in a partial transcript of an interview he gave to Alt TV, which airs tonight.

He wrote also:-

Given the opportunity to explain himself to reporters this morning, Goff didn’t resile from his remarks – in fact he said he stood by them. He added that Labour was the underdog going into the election, and that clearly some people felt it was time for a change.

Now, full marks to Goff for honesty, but it’s a well-known political convention that senior ministers don’t upstage their leader by talking about defeat in an election year, particularly when the party is staring down the barrel of a walloping.

And they most certainly don’t start speculating about the process involved in a leadership change, bloodless or not, should that party be defeated.

The question, then, is was Goff simply having an off day or was he being disingenuous? Did he make a faux pas or is this part of a wider game plan on his part?

I’m going with the latter option. Goff has been in politics almost as long as Clark. He knows the score. There is no way he would have made these remarks without an end-game in mind.

The Hive has several posts on this topic, Adam was particularly keen on this, this and this.

The knives are being sharpened.

Perhaps Goff is mindful of this quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:-

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

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