It seems that the voices for an Option C in the Labour leadership race were louder than previously thought. Andrew Little is a name that has appeared increasingly in reference to the leadership over the past few days. By the time some people read this, he may have even announced that he will be contesting the leadership.
This isn’t an expression of support for Andrew Little, rather a (hopefully) objective look at his prospects should he choose to enter the leadership race.
Little will enter the race as an underdog. It is an outside chance that he could win the leadership, though not impossible. A few things would need to fall in his favour when the Labour Party goes to the ballots.
First, the unions. As an ex-union boss, Little has been lined up to take a large chunk of this vote. He ran the EPMU, the largest private union in the country, potentially gifting him a good portion of the union vote. Apparently this also means that the media will treat him nicely too, which would be a nice break for Labour.
However, he would still have to wrestle a lot of union support from David Cunliffe, and potentially from Grant Robertson. In the days before Cunliffe announced his resignation from the party, rumours were flying that many influential unions had pulled their support for him, presumably in favour of Grant Robertson as challenger-apparent. Could Andrew Little capture that support as well? It may just be that as an ex-unionist he will resonate with the unions.
Next, the caucus. Rumours of an Anyone But Grant/Cunliffe faction amongst the MPs are swirling. Presumably these are the ABCs that haven’t declared their support for Grant – so Clayton Cosgrove, Damien O’Connor, David Shearer and Stuart Nash (who has actually said that he won’t run if Andrew Little does). Then you have the MPs that have continued to back Cunliffe: Sua William Sio, Louisa Wall, Nanaia Mahuta, Sue Moroney and Cunliffe himself. If those MPs were to give Andrew Little their second vote on a second ballot that would give Little 10 of 30 votes in caucus. Then there are some question marks over new MPs Kelvin Davis, Peeni Henare and Adrian Rurawhe, as well as Carmel Sepuloni and Jenny Salesa (who are probably both in Camp Cunliffe – Sepuloni definitely is). Unknown quantities in caucus could also be Rino Tiritikatene and Meka Whaitiri. I can’t find out who they voted for in the last election. This is not including Grant Robertson’s large faction in caucus, who may well give Little their second vote due to a dislike of Cunliffe With the support or secondary vote of these MPs, as long as Little doesn’t drop out of the race on the first ballot he could get quite a significant portion of caucus on a second vote count.
Lastly, and most importantly – the membership. It seems as if this race is going to be won or lost on how Labour Party members choose to vote. At the moment, Cunliffe may still have an edge on Robertson – he captured a massive amount of this vote last year. Andrew Little needs to gauge how much support there is amongst the members for an Option C. If a lot of people are getting sick of the sniping between Robertson and Cunliffe then this could turn out in Little’s favour. In that case, Little would need to present himself as an alternative to Cunliffe. He’s got the left wing credentials and possibly the union backing, but will be entering the race with none of the dirt attached to him that David Cunliffe had dredged up through his controversial actions in undermining Phil Goff and David Shearer. The one thing that Little lacks that Cunliffe has in spades is energy. Cunliffe radiated it throughout the campaign, bouncing around malls and night markets, and gave forceful performances in speeches and debates. Andrew Little isn’t necessarily a bad or unconfident speaker, he just comes off a bit more reserved. Some media training and an energy injection could see him appealing to ex-Cunliffites who would like to see someone similar, and also begin to turn people still firmly in camp Cunliffe around. Again, second votes could be vital here if he can appeal to the supporters of both Robertson and Cunliffe, who dislike the other contender. At the moment it seems as if Cunliffe has good support amongst Maori and Pacifika voters in South Auckland, and this could be an important group of people for Little to target. Preferably without the very public televised homophobia…
Andrew Little provides an interesting break from previous leaders because he is in the regions. As Labour’s candidate in New Plymouth, he would stop the trend of leaders being from major New Zealand cities. Since David Lange, Labour leaders have been from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. A regional leader could capture votes from a part of the electorate that Labour has rarely tapped. Of course, the main issue here is that Andrew Little has failed to win New Plymouth twice now, calling into question whether he actually can appeal to these people. It’s an interesting point to consider though.
I think that we see in Andrew Little a true Option C, appealing to Cunliffites becoming disillusioned with DC, and party members in general who don’t want to vote for Cunliffe or Grant. Again, a lot of things need to fall in his favour. It seems like second votes could become very important, which means that Little needs to take enough support from Cunliffe to make sure that he doesn’t drop off the ballot after the first count.
Little also needs to think about who he would prefer as leader were he to lose. If it’s Cunliffe then he shouldn’t run, because he will only sap support from DC which will favour Robertson. If he does want Robertson then he should run for precisely this reason. I suspect he’d prefer Grant. Little`s candidacy could be strategically setting him up for an influential position in a Grant Robertson caucus.
Of course, the campaigning has hardly started. The person who becomes the next leader will be the one who can provide a convincing plan to make Labour relevant again. All is still up in the air for the membership, and I for one look forward to a good contest. If that contest features three contenders instead of two, all the better for Labour’s democratic process.
Unlikely, but not impossible.
Could Andrew Little be the next leader of the Labour Party?
More importantly, could he lead Labour to victory in 2017?