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shibloSusan Guthrie

Does Labour have a hobbit as leader?

By Susan Guthrie and Geoff Simmons 

Bilbo Baggins and David Shearer have a lot in common, not least the preference for a quiet life. “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” But a comfortable life is a lesser thing, as Bilbo Baggins came to realise, and David Shearer will too if gets his act together. Bilbo fainted at the initial thought of embarking on an adventure, Shearer too is probably less enamoured of politics this week than at any time in the past year. But, hey, there’s work to be done.

It’s not as if the challenges facing New Zealand are lesser than the onslaught of trolls, goblins, wolves and spiders that beset Bilbo and his gang. For vile gold-hoarding dragons substitute the ‘wealthy won’t-shares’ in New Zealand who steadfastly baulk at paying tax – surely the first target for a credible Opposition? The question is whether Shearer has the guts to do what Bilbo did and start his Unexpected Journey, or if he will do what other hobbits did and leave it to the Elves (the Greens) to sort out the mess.

Bilbo too had the misfortune to be accompanied by a would-be leader, with high ambitions and a penchant for failure. If the plot line of the Hobbit doesn’t convince you of David Cunliffe’s likeness to the Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield his recent flowering of facial hair might. Fortunately for David Shearer, Cunliffe appears to have less support than Thorin, his Labour Caucus supporters not appearing yet to number 13 foot soldiers.

At one point on his journey, Bilbo faces a crisis of confidence. “Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” Labour too is at a crossroads. It is hobbled by its legacy as the party which introduced free-market policies to New Zealand, not least because some of the Party have yet to accept they took it to unacceptable excess. Labour has yet, despite nearly two terms in Opposition, to work out what value it offers New Zealand. Go back, offering what they did a decade ago? Go sideways, offering the same as National only with a different front face? Or offer something meaningful which is fresh and new?

What needs to be done is clear. Protect the environment and redistribute wealth and income better for a start. That won’t win friends for Shearer and Labour among the polluting farmers and the wealthy won’t-shares. But it’s time these groups were sorted. They’ve won for a very long time, and now it’s the rest of Middle Earth’s – yes, read New Zealand’s – turn. New Zealanders need a real policy choice at the 2014 election and right now they don’t have it. Hopefully Shearer can channel his inner Bilbo and take a step outside Hobbiton. So far Labour’s policies resemble putting a timid toe outside Bag End rather than embarking on a bold adventure – Labour’s weak Capital Gains Tax is a good example. Do we need a Gandalf to help prod him on his way- Aunty Helen maybe – or is this one adventure Bilbo can do by himself?

Article by By Susan Guthrie and Geoff Simmons

  • Whio

    I half wondered if that’s what Clark had done when she visited Shearer recently, but if she did, he paid no heed. Wonderful article. I’m a Green supporter, and as such, want to see a strong Labour party who is ready for election time, showing themselves to be at all viable. While I’d love a Green govt – of course – I don’t see that happening as early as 2014, and the thought of National getting in just because Labour don’t seem to understand their actual raison d’étre is alarming.

  • Doug Agnew

    David Shearer is not the person to front Labour but he is at this time the only one who can. He does not show confidence when he speaks and that is why the current PM rates so much higher in the prefered polls. Labour will not win the next elections with David Shearer at the helm.

    • Brent Hutchison

      I agree with most of what you said, but I completely disagree that Shearer is the ‘only one who can’…there are many well experienced charismatic senior MPs in Labour that could do a far better job.

      Cunliffe, Robertson, even Hipkins, far better speakers, far more presence in the camera, more years in the house to draw experience from…. my $0.02

      This is an attempt by Labour to copy cat the manor in which the Nats got
      mr Key in, fresh face, not very long as an MP, but in this case they
      picked an empty suit IMO.

  • Mick Coogan

    Good on ya Gareth. Shearer should be all over bloody National and Banks over a whole heap of stuff. He’s a pussy in sheep’s clothing.

    • Gareth Morgan

      Full credit goes to Susan for this post

  • Terry Goodall

    Thanks Gareth. As an “early adopter” of Tolkien’s fantasies, your interpretation really resonates. Wonder if the story will continue to throw up more parallels, and how it might resolve… watching!

  • Murray

    I too have been very disappointed and critical of Shearer, but after watching his conference speech I now feel there is some hope. He’s still not a natural orator and the hand gestures don’t always ring true, but this was a lot better. Maybe we can thank Cunliffe for the improvement. It seems Shearer only wakes up when he has a gun pointed at his head. Now he needs to stay awake and keep improving. The content of the speech though, was very encouraging. It gave the impression that Labour might have finally worked out what it stands for. Let’s hope so.

  • mysolarquotes

    I have no hope for the current Labour line up. They are both weak characters and weak leaders in my eyes. New Zealand needs some change of its own. To be honest my only hope is if Gareth takes a step further into politics and runs for PM 2014.

  • Brent Hutchison

    After watching mr Shearers comments on Stuff video clips, I have to say I have lost faith in Labour completely, the man stumbles over his words and repeats himself in an almost stutter….

  • sunday special

    One thing we know about this column is that they have no idea at all about politics, and the ideas expressed are a puffter in the wind

  • sunday special

    this column makes Chris Trotter seem like a right wing zealot

  • Nigel

    “the polluting farmers and the wealthy won’t-shares” speaking of trolls *rolls eyes*