By Pattrick Smellie
Elected to the Labour leadership on the 13th of the month, unlucky for some, David Shearer has some big shoes to fill and probably not very long to do it.
He will need Grant Robertson, who will replace him if he flubs it, to be a loyal deputy who can bring some passion to Shearer’s so far amiable public palette.
He will need Shane Jones to ride shotgun on the front bench, like some crazed kuia coming up with the killer one-liners.
He’ll need Phil Goff, Annette King and Trevor Mallard to step out of the way, now that they’ve seen Shearer – a Goff protégé who missed election in 2002 because of it – into the position they always thought he could be suited for.
He may or may not have the services of David Cunliffe, who was rumoured to be close to quitting politics last year, and may consider it again now.
David Shearer is very clever, thoughtful and likable, and has led large humanitarian operations with billion dollar budgets in war zones. He was approached about a UN job in post-Gaddafi Libya before the election. There’s obviously something going on.
As a backbencher condemned to life in Opposition, with an ongoing fascination for the Middle East, Libya must have looked tempting for Shearer.
Now he’s suddenly Leader of the Opposition, ascending on the momentum of a quest for renewal and political relevance, but showing little so far of what he or the new-found Labour he strives for will be like.
o far, the David Shearer the public has met is a cypher, albeit a cypher with a great life story, which is a great platform to start from.
He needs now to lay out, on the big issues and beyond his foreign policy expertise, what he thinks about a number of the big questions.
What do we do about the banks? Is a Tobin tax a good idea? How should New Zealand think about climate change, its water and livestock, its need for a faster-growing economy?
What works in social policy – where is the balance between carrot and stick? What is your one big idea that will change New Zealand for the better?
And that’s not counting the immediate questions that media will pose: what about GST-free food, the capital gains tax, and the higher pension age – the three Labour policies that turned voters off and to New Zealand First at the polls.
Until we know some of that, Shearer has not yet actually “done” anything, other than win this contest.