While we all wish that Malcolm Tucker was a real life person, Matt McCarten seems like a good choice as David Cunliffe’s new Chief of Staff. In fact, he could be exactly what Labour needs in election year.
McCarten’s impressive track record on the left has seen him play major roles in Labour, the Alliance and the Mana Party, and his return to Labour for the first time since the party split in 1989, as well as the recent work Jim Anderton has done for Labour in Christchurch East, can only signal that the political left is reuniting.
Of course, many people will say that McCarten is coming on as David Cunliffe’s Chief of Staff because he’s sucked up to Cunliffe and represents a ficticious hard-left Labour agenda. Indeed, John Key has already said that this shows that Labour are careening off to the left. Others will also say that McCarten is here to scare the ABC group that apparently exists but no one seems to have any proof of.
There was a story circulating today, written by McCarten in 2012 in which he praised David Shearer and didn’t think much of David Cunliffe. The spin was obvious – Matt McCarten has sucked up to David Cunliffe to get a good job and the ear of the Leader of the Opposition. However, I think that it is the opposite. In his appearance with David Cunliffe to announce his new position, McCarten admitted to not really ever getting to know Cunliffe, and said that he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at the direction that Labour had been going since the leadership election. Evidently Labour is doing something right, that has made McCarten want to come on board rather than doing any sucking up. The fact that only two years ago he was writing a disparaging piece on David Cunliffe obviously shows that McCarten isn’t coming in to blindly defend the leader, and is able to look at Labour objectively and do the work that needs to be done.
Matt McCarten has a track record of not being afraid to say what needs to be said, and this is exactly what Labour needs. Labour’s problems are not with threats to the leadership, but with the fact that they are perceived, whether rightly or wrongly, of not really doing that much at the moment. Having someone like McCarten on board to get things going internally will be a refreshing change, and should motivate Labour MPs and staffers to get the party out there and noticeable.
Obviously, the cynical and the right wing will label McCarten as hard left, or a radical or something, and try to pin more dangerously left rhetoric. However, I think that it’s a good sign for Labour, and shows that they still have credibility amongst people of influence on the left.
The challenge that David Cunliffe and Matt McCarten now face is being able to prove that they can reach out to the more right and centre parts of the party. This will be a test of Cunliffe’s leadership and McCarten’s political maturity. However, the return of people like Matt McCarten to the ranks of Labour bode well for Labour, which will hopefully move ahead as a well oiled machine, with a new, high profile, veteran Chief of Staff at the organising helm.