Title: Labour's new "Game of Thrones" Credit: Craig Young Comment Monday 29th September 2014 - 9:16am1411935360 Article: 15792 Rights
And so, Grant Robertson is once more in contention for the Labour leadership. Will Grant Robertson eventually become Labour - and New Zealand's - first out gay Prime Minister in the course of time, after Labour's worst ever election result on September 20? And what about the other contenders? It has been just over a year since I wrote my last article on the Labour leadership race as it had then happened. With the inaugural Labour leadership selection primary contest after David Shearer's earlier resignation as party leader, David Cunliffe had decisively won the resultant poll, with support from trade unions and party rank and file, although with some alleged resistance from the Labour caucus and an "Anyone But Cunliffe" faction. However, after all that had happened, the parliamentary caucus united behind its new leader, with hopes that he could raise the party fortunes. Most centre-left commentators wanted badly to believe that the decline in Labour's fortunes was over, and that Cunliffe could deliver. However, as time went on, he seemed to lack precision, detail and focus in parliamentary debates, although it must be said that he performed excellently during the cut and thrust of leadership debates with Prime Minister John Key. All to no avail, however, as Cunliffe's earlier performance partially led to the result that we witnessed on September 20. Once again, much of the potential electorate failed to vote and the outcome was a slight absolute majority for the Key administration, retention of its three satellite microparties, loss of Mana-Internet as a third left election bloc, resurgence of New Zealand First and a slight decline in the Green Party vote. As I have said before, I do not think the fault was that of David Cunliffe alone and it is good that Grant Robertson acknowledges that. As well as the parliamentary party, the party organisation, its communication management and research unit all also probably need reform, so one imagines that Moira Coatsworth and Tim Barnett may also tender their resignations in this context. Unfortunately, when Cunliffe stated that even given the dire election result for Labour, he wanted to stay on as party leader, he aroused the inevitable backlash amongst his caucus and organisational detractors. His position rapidly became untenable, as much of the caucus seemed to desert him and the influential Engineering Printers and Manufacturers Union (EPMU) backed his departure. Cunliffe still has supporters amongst the Meat Workers Union, but no other union supporters. As for trade union connections, Grant Robertson is a former Public Service Association union delegate. Other contenders, such as David Parker and Andrew Little, appear to have cleared the deck in recognition of his leadership challenge, after Cunliffe's resignation as party leader occurred on September 27, after the shortest tenure of a Labour leader on record. One hopes that Cunliffe does not try to undermine his successor as he arguably did in the case of David Shearer and Phil Goff. Unfortunately, despite doing the right thing and resigning, Cunliffe has signalled that he is once more contesting the Labour leadership during the forthcoming primary As I did with the last Labour leadership contest, here's a brief biographical piece on Grant Robertson. Robertson was born in Palmerston North and attended Otago University. He has previously served as President of the Otago and New Zealand University Student Associations. He served as Manager of the Overseas Samoan Aid Programme ($NZ 7.7 million) while employed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He later served as an advisor to Environment Minister Marian Hobbs and Prime Minister Helen Clark. In Opposition, he has been Foreign Affairs, Heritage and Culture and Health spokesperson and served as Deputy Leader under David Shearer. When Cunliffe won the leadership contest in September 2013, he was given the Employment, Skills and Training shadow portfolio and performed well against Steven Joyce in parliamentary debate. And now...? When it comes to his sexual orientation, he has said: "Being gay is part of who I am, just as is being a former diplomat, a fan of the mighty Wellington Lions [rugby team] and a fan of New Zealand music and New Zealand literature. My political view is defined by my sexuality only as much as it has given me an insight into how people can be marginalised and discriminated against, and how much I abhor that. I'm glad to have largely grown up in a generation that is not fixated on issues like sexual orientation. I am not- and nor should anyone else be." Grant is in a civil union with Alf, a Wellington bus driver, whom he met while both men were playing for the Krazy Knights, one of the first gay New Zealand rugby teams, in the late nineties. The couple civilly united after a decade of cohabitation. David Shearer has also indicated that he wants a second term as Labour leader. Shearer has a distinguished career in diplomatic relations and foreign policy administration. He has worked with the Institute for Strategic Studies, Save the Children, the International Crisis Group, the Waitangi Tribunal and was appointed the United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator. He has administered services in global hot spots such as Rwanda, Albania, Belgrade and also worked for another former Labour leader, Phil Goff, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Elected in 2009 for Helen Clark's former Mount Albert seat, Shearer served two years as Leader of the Opposition (2011-2013). Might he become Robertson's deputy this time, given the undoubted foreign policy strengths that he has? Or will it be social policy spokesperson Jacinda Ardern, as previously indicated? Or will it be current Opposition finance spokesperson David Parker, currently Cunliffe's deputy? As for Cunliffe, it seems only fair to repeat his personal details in the interests of balance. David Cunliffe has been Labour leader for the last year. Before entering politics he was a business consultant for the Boston Consulting Group and has a Masters in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School . During the Clark administration, he served as Health Minister, as well as Minister for Communication and Information Technology. He was demoted from Shearer's shadow Cabinet from an abortive leadership tilt in November 2012, and has served on the Finance, Expenditure and Regulation parliamentary select committees. He is current Labour MP for New Lynn. So, what are the prospects of Robertson becoming New Zealand's first openly gay Prime Minister? If that eventuated, he would be the fourth in the world to do so. Former Iceland Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdadottir was the first lesbian to do so, while current Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Ruppo was the first gay man to become prime minister and Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel was the third lesbian/gay figure to do so. Bettel's deputy, Etienne Schneider, is also a gay man. All of the above but Bettel belong to centre-left/social democratic parties, while Bettel is affiliated to Luxembourg's classical liberal Democratic Party, although it is also in an alliance with Schneider's Socialist Workers Party and the Luxembourg Greens within its National Assembly. The above seems to suggest that being an out lesbian or gay leader within a European social democratic party is no obstacle to prime ministerial aspirations. If Grant eventually does become New Zealand Prime Minister, he will become the first out lesbian or gay executive parliamentary figure in the Southern Hemisphere, unless Uruguay or Argentina has a surprise awaiting us, as was the case with marriage equality. Who will be the victor in Labour's 'Game of Thrones' this time? Recommended: Grant Robertson, Maiden Statement to Parliament: 09.12.2008: Grant Robertson website: Craig Young - 29th September 2014    
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