Bryce Edwards on David Clark

Bryce Edwards writes on Labour MP David Clark in this week’s D Scene – Rookie MP takes another leap up the rankings.

He notes Clark’s rise from being placed at 49 on Labour’s party list in 2011 (remarkably that was lower than the 43 that the person he won the Dunedin North candidancy over, Glenda Alexander, was placed) up to number 12 on Labour’s bench.

Clark has been lucky, and he’s also done well with some things, and as a consequence has been talked up and praised…

In parliament and the media Clark has been a top performer. He speaks well, and is an exceptionally good spokesperson for Labour.

It could be said it’s not hard to shine amongst a lacklustre Labour caucus but most of the praise is deserved. His speech in the House on marriage equality was top stuff.

Some might grumble that he merely repeats the party’s carefully crafted talking points but that’s the nature of parliamentary politics.

I’ve been one who has criticised him for being a loyal reciter. His speaking and especially his “opposition” attacks have often lacked substance, he has been caught short on policy detail, he has made basic mistakes (for example confusing revenue with profit when talking about taxing multinationals) and he repeats dishonest claims.

But he is doing what he has been trained to do for his party.

Edwards wonders where Clark fits in the political scene.

Ideologically it’s still difficult to see what Clark stands for beyond then obvious tribal Labour policies.

Clark’s main political focus – at least in campaigning – has been on inequality and poverty.

Yes, I’ve seen that. One of his favourite election campaign stories was about visiting a cold house and seeing a poor hungry child with a runny nose.

I have no doubt that Clark genuinely wants to try and do something about inequality and the plight of the poor.

So where is Clark ideologically within the Labour caucus? He’s notably close to deputy leader Grant Robertson, who is relatively left-wing, but also incredibly pragmatic.

His vote to support marriage equality surprised some, he was expected to have a more conservative religious view but Clark seemed to be listening to and representing the younger demographic on this.

Like Robertson, Clark is increasingly famous for being able to get on with anyone – he’s widely described as a nice guy.

I’ve described him that way.

In the left-right leadership split between Cunliffe and Shearer, Clark was on the Shearer side, and his latest large  leap up the leadership ranking might be seen to owe something to this.

I think his leap was partly due to loyalty (and it seems that Cunliffe supporters were punished)…

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.

…but he is also one of the few options within the Labour caucus for presenting a fresh new face with a reasonable degree of competency.

Clark is very much the modern look for Labour nice but not too radical.

The same as Labour tried to promote Shearer but they don’t seem to be doing nice any more.

Nice but not too radical – Clark would be like brussel sprouts at a children’s birthday party amongst the bitter and not-so-nice Labour activists at The Standard!

Time will tell whether he’s got the actual substance to fulfil the big predictions being made for him.

Yes. He has made the start that any new politician would love to have, partly through ability and personality, partly through luck, and partly through timing (a very weak Labour).

Now Clark will have to develop substance to live up to high expectations.

And just as important, he needs to avoid being owned by the machine as Davide Shearer appears to be. Shearer promised to be a fresh new sort of politician, but he seems to have old school tentacles all over him.

Clark has the time and opportunity to become his own political personality and a strong performer for Labour – and for New Zealand. We’ll see if he develops the depth of policy knowledge to be a heavy hitter, and if he has the strength of character to be true to himself.

UPDATE: Edwards’ column is also now posted at his blog – David Clark: The political rise of ‘a nice guy’

1 Comment

  1. Darryl

     /  March 6, 2013

    Sorry Pete, but David Clark, doesn’t inspire me at all. In fact the only one with a good Brain in the Labour Party,is the man relegated to the back bench, by the bumbling Mr Shearer. ie: David Cunliffe. The majority of Labour should be put out to pasture.

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