The resignation of David Shearer as Labour Party leader came as no surprise to many labour and trade union activists. David Shearer may have been portrayed as an action man of the United Nations, but he certainly wasn't when it came to the Labour Party. The Labour Party has been languishing in the low 30% of the polls for some time. This means with the general election to be held by next November the likelihood of a Labour-led government in 2014 was getting more remote. There have been rumblings from within Labour's caucus for sometime over Shearer's performance as they see their career prospects narrow! With the growing likelihood of a challenge by caucus to his leadership David Shearer resigned.
The problem for the Labour Party right-wing with David Shearer was although he was seen as a safe pair of hands for them he was a political parvenu and lightweight. His constant poor performance in the House of Representatives and underwhelming media abilities meant that he went from an asset to a liability for the party very quickly.
It must be remembered that under the old rules of the Labour Party Shearer was elected solely by the caucus. This was against a groundswell of rank and file opinion that supported Cunliffe. As a consequence of the caucus's actions of electing Shearer and of been seen not to listen to the wishes of the ordinary members the rank and file have successfully changed the rules of the party. Now in the event of two or more candidates coming forward (for the first time in the history of the Labour Party) all the membership will have a say and vote under the new electoral rules for the party leader.
The electoral college of 40% caucus, 40% members and 20% affiliates is a major victory for the rank and file and a step forward for party democracy. At least under this arrangement the caucus is more accountable to the party. It is highly amusing to listen to National Radio to hear the likes of David Parker defend party democracy when at the last party conference he was vehemently opposed along with a large number of the caucus members.
It is highly unlikely that the caucus will only support one candidate and avoid a coronation of a new leader. This is because the rank and file feel cheated with Shearer's anointment and if such a position was put forward then there would be a further rank and file backlash against the present leadership.
The two front runners for leader are David Cunliffe and Grant Robinson. Either of them would be an improvement against the previous encumberant's abilities! Both are on the traditional right of the party with Cunliffe having the edge as at least in words he is seen to be on he left by the rank and file.
Whilst David Shearer's performance is a factor in Labour's poor polling despite the concerted government attacks on workers and continuing austerity, the major factor is that the Labour Party lacks coherent policies that would enthuse workers to support them. What party members need to be asking the soon to come forward candidates is how they envisage to carry out the socialist programme of party's constitution.
This is the only way forward if the Labour Party is going to re-connect with disillusioned workers who failed in record numbers to vote at the last general election. What is the point of having a manifesto that commits the party to capitalism and the subsequent adaptation to capitalist orthodoxy. When simply put is that workers must pay the price for the crisis of capitalism with continuing falls to living standards and poorer public services for a generation. Whilst the present leadership may think that they can manage capitalism better than the capitalists and deliver reforms to workers like in the post-war period they are sadly mistaken. However well meaning they may initially be it will turn in to its opposite very quickly and go from reform to counter-reform.
This is the capitalist prescription from the IMF and OECD and it is a worry that the caucus are pleased that the proposed economic policy is very similar to such great supporters of the working class that of the IMF and OECD!
As Jill Ovens (SFWU) said in a radio interview on this matter “what we want is a leader with fire in their belly.” We couldn't agree more but we would go further and what we want is a leader with fire in their belly that strongly advocates for socialism. Such a leader would be advocating for nationalisation of the banks, insurance companies and major industries under workers control and management.