Few politicians have risen as quickly up the slippery ladder of politics as Dunedin North’s David Clark. He’s barely been in Parliament a year, but in last week’s caucus reshuffle, he jumped from being 49 on the Labour Party list, to now being ranked 12 in the party. [Read more of my DScene newspaper column below]
In the end-of-year commentaries on politics in 2012, he was picked by a variety of pundits to be one of the ‘rising stars’, ‘backbencher of the year’, and ‘one to watch’. Last week a newspaper editorial feted him as a potential future leader of Labour and as prime minister. He has even been labelled one of New Zealand’s best-dressed MPs (with ‘geek chic’).
Clark’s 2011 win of Dunedin North wasn’t quite so emphatic. He won the safe seat, of course, but the vote tally plummeted from the Pete Hodgson’s 17,127 in 2008 to Clark’s 12,976. It has to be remembered though that this was an election in which the swing against Labour in Dunedin was 11%, and he did considerably better than his Dunedin South counterpart.
In Parliament and the media Clark has been a top performer. He speaks well, and is an exceptionally good spokesperson for Labour. Some might grumble that he merely repeats the party’s carefully crafted talking points, but that’s the nature of parliamentary politics.
Ideologically, it’s still difficult to see what Clark stands for beyond the obvious tribal-Labour policies. Clark’s main political focus – at least in campaigning – has been inequality and poverty. Yet while he’s been spokesperson on revenue, the party has signalled that two of its more progressive tax policies are to be dropped (tax-free first $5000 of income, and GST off fruit and vegetables).
So where is David Clark ideologically within the Labour caucus? He’s noticeably close to deputy leader Grant Robertson, who is relatively left-wing, but also incredibly pragmatic. Like Robertson, Clark is increasingly famous for being able to get on with anyone – he’s widely described as ‘a nice guy’ by commentators and even opponents.
In the left-right leadership split between Cunliffe and Shearer, Clark was on the Shearer side. And his latest large leap up the ranking might be seen to owe something to this. But more than this, Clark is just the sort of politician that Labour desperately needs, because the party has failed to rejuvenate in recent years. Clark is very much the modern look for Labour – nice but not too radical. Time will tell as to whether he’s got the actual substance to fulfil the big predictions being made for him.