It was rather appropriate that the Labour Party frontbench MPs met in Dunedin last month to discuss the party’s on-going woes over leadership, poll ratings, and the Darren Hughes saga. This city has a strong connection with Labour’s past, present and future. It is especially notable that many of the party’s rising stars and leadership contenders have strong links to Dunedin – David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson have spent considerable time here, and David Parker still does. All three of them are increasingly talked about as replacements for Phil Goff. [This column, written for Fairfax’s Dunedin DScene newspaper, continues below]
Cunliffe and Robertson are graduates of the Politics Department at the University (where I teach), and both are remembered here as very promising and able students. Cunliffe is now fully ensconced in Auckland, but Robertson, although now a Wellington MP, still has strong ties here and he visits the city often. List MP David Parker is resident here, and has contested the last three elections – winning the Otago seat in 2002, but losing in the Waitaki seat to National since then. In 2011 he’s content to just go on the list and not stand for an electorate. He also appears to spend more of his time in Auckland these days.
Other current Labour politicians in Dunedin are also having a notable impact on the party (present and future). Pete Hodgson MP is about to retire, but he leaves his mark on the nature of the party. Hodgson has been one of the major strategists for the party over the last two or more decades, and recently he’s been responsible for Labour’s strategy of negative campaigning – chasing political scandals and digging dirt on opponents. Unfortunately for Labour this type of tactic has created a political environment whereby the concentration is now on the personal behaviour of MPs, and Darren Hughes was recently a major victim of this newfound scrutiny of alleged personal misdemeanours.
South Dunedin MP Clare Curran is also helping shape the current nature of the party. She’s got a firm focus on policy and process innovation in the party. In particular she has pushed – rather idealistically – for the party to have a more open policy-making process involving online contributions from the public, although that initiative seems to have come to nothing so far. Curran has a safe seat – due to the almost unheard of feat of unseating a sitting MP for the Labour Party nomination in 2008 – but she’s not viewed as frontbench material and is likely to remain a mid-level player in the party.
David Clark is the Labour Party nominee for North Dunedin, and he’s almost certain to win the seat. He’s seen as a ‘bright young talent’ within the party, and likely to have a long career ahead of him in politics. Many people still aren’t too sure what he actually believes in – but that’s not necessarily a handicap in today’s pragmatic politics. [David Clark is pictured below with his brother, Ben Clark, also a 2011 Labour Party candidate]
The Labour Party list, recently out, shows that these Dunedin-related Labour MPs are spread out throughout the list. Highest is Cunliffe (#3), Parker is next (#4), Grant Robertson is #14, Clare Curran is #28, and Dunedin North candidate David Clark is a lowly #49. All of them will have a significant impact on the future of the party.