Carefully crafted claptrap

David Shearer exceeded expectations with his speech at the Labour conference, but…

When you strip away the hype and excessive promotion of his speech how much substance is there? These are my thoughts before I read media analysis.

Immediate response

There’s no doubt the speech was well received by the large crowd of party faithful at the conference. Of course they all put on a show to try and impress media and outsiders watching coverage, but I’m sure there many people genuinely enjoyed the speech.

And immediate media response was good:

Vernon Small ‏@VernonSmall
Shearer speech getting good reception from party faithful (as they do) and he is delivering well.

Toby Manhire ‏@toby_etc
2 min standing ovation. Shearer very impressive. About as good as he and supporters could have hoped for.

Patrick Gower ‏@patrickgowernz
Powerhouse performance by David Shearer

So I’ll give him a pass mark for that.

But my own impression from home (from media reports of parts of the speech), was that it was a well coached, well rehearsed delivery, but it didn’t seem to me to be a natural David Shearer, it was more of an act than an impassioned personality.

And while he was speaking a Labour friendly blog was not being particularly friendly about Shearer – see Shearer makes first move at The Standard, currently 149 comments mostly critical of his handling of the leadership problems, while a speech promotion post The Speech: Active Government  (currently 24 comments) with modest praise and some criticism.

A new direction

This was a major component of the speech, trying to differentiate from National and from the current economic difficulties, but it was vague rhetoric.

It’s about a new direction for Labour and a new direction for New Zealand.

My vision for New Zealand is fundamentally different from the one National is following.

Does Shearer think we are going right and he is going to turn us around and go left? If so he should have defined how much, how big a change in direction we would be in for under his leadership.

How fundamentally different does he see his version of New Zealand?

The other path is about change.

How much change do people actually want? We’d all like things to be better, but I doubt that wholesale change is needed, nor preferred. We tend to keep governments for two or three terms, resisting too much change.

And he should have backed this up with direction changing examples. He talked hard but with soft options.

Monetary policy will change.

So when the high dollar is killing our exporters we will give the Reserve Bank tools to act on the exchange rate.

And what? Compete with US, Chinese and European monetary policies?

We’ll change the approach to productivity.

We’ll be hands-on. The Minimum Wage will go up. A Living Wage must be our goal.

And Labour laws will be reformed to restore decency.

How will that change productivity?

The approach to education will change.

The intelligent approach, the one I will follow is the one that asks:  what will it take to make this education system the best in the world?

He criticised changes National are trying to make, changes that teachers are strongly resisting. But all he said he would actually do is ask a vague question.


I say to the people of Christchurch: we are committed to helping you rebuild your city from the grassroots up – not the Beehive down.

The Christchurch rebuild will be well under way by 2015, the earliest a Labour led Government will be able to change anything.

Is Shearer proposing a major change to how that is being managed? It’s hard to know what changes he would actually make, let alone know what changes wmight be necessary then.


Eradicating poverty will be a top priority for the next Labour Government.

If anyone knows about real world poverty Shearer should. He should know that New Zealand poverty is quite different. He should also know that eradicating either type is not something that will be possible over the course of his political career…

And the thousands of children lifted out of poverty under Helen Clark. The icons of Kiwisaver and KiwiBank were put in place.

Don’t let anyone tell you a government can’t do big things to change lives.

…especially if he believes that Kiwisaver and Kiwibank have been key changes that have lifted thousands of children out of poverty. Did he not want to mention Working For Families?


The flagship policy announcement was…

Today I’m announcing that we will put 100,000 Kiwi families into their first home.

That’s the sort of big change we need to make a big difference to people’s lives.

We’ll oversee and invest in a large scale 10 year building programme of entry-level houses that Kiwis are crying out for.

That’s 10,000 houses per year, a significant number but much less than what is needed. He also said…

At the peak of last decade, about 30,000 new homes were built a year.

This policy needs more detailed scrutiny, but as it was being launched there was a promotional post at The Standard – KiwiBuild  – where the policy was mostly being criticised despite valiant efforts by loyal party supporter Anthony Robins to support and defend it. Anthony quoted from the factsheet:

No household type will receive preference over any other household type. Nor will there be any income restrictions. On the whole, people will ‘self-select’, with those who can afford to move up the property ladder excluding themselves.

There’s obviously some extreme naivity there, as was pointed out, resulting in this comment:

“Do we need to piss all over it because its not a perfect policy in a perfect world?”

r0b, if you’re not interested in actually reading what I’m writing, I’m happy to go elsewhere. It’s not because “it’s not a perfect policy”. It’s because it’s seriously flawed in ways which means it will not succeed at its stated goals.

QoT is a Cunliffe supporter, but that suggests the even best meat of Shearer’s speech will have some trouble.

What Shearer didn’t mention

Shearer talked a bit about himself and his ideals and (vague) vision. He talked a bit about policy. But he talked very little about the people in Labour who might make it happen. Quality of political endeavour is dictated substantially by the quality of the people involved.

Shearer didn’t mention caucus, MP, team. The speech transcript doesn’t refer to any capability of personnel. He did make one comment that isn’t in then official notes:

“We must speak in one clear voice”.

That is regarded as a plea to a party that is plagued by leadership challenges that were prominently on display over the weekend.

Words might inspire, but people are required to do. Loyal and competent people.

Carefully crafted claptrap

That may seem like a harsh summation of Shearer’s effort, but let me finish at the start, with Shearer’s own opening words.

Today I want to talk about two paths that lie before us as a country.

Each offers very different directions and different choices.

One path leads to disappointment, decline and constant struggle.

That’s our country’s current path, the one National is taking.

The other path is about change.

It’s about a new direction for Labour and a new direction for New Zealand.

A new direction where we fight back, create opportunity and build a world class New Zealand that we’re proud of.

A new direction that’s about what is best for the long term, not just the short term.

A new direction that’s about all New Zealanders daring to dream and having the opportunity to get there.

Not just accepting second best and managing decline.

We’ve always been a creative, innovative people with a ‘can do’ attitude.

Respected and admired across the globe.

Down to earth. Willing to give it a go.

We need that new direction now more than ever.

It’s about building a smart, new and powerful economy that delivers a fairer society.

That’s what I stand for.

That’s what we can achieve together.

How does that sound away from the hype and buzz of the crowded conference?

Full speech: New Zealand – A new direction


  1. Darryl

     /  November 19, 2012

    I wasn’t impressed with Shearers speech. It didn’t offer any substance whatsoever. To me it was fantasy, and he looked awkward, it wasn’t a confident Leader speech, that is for sure.

    • It didn’t do anythjing for me either. Too many cliched one-linetrs but little substance and it didn’t seem to reveal the real David Shearer. He has become a party construct.

      • Darryl

         /  November 19, 2012

        Pete, David Shearer, needs to be himself, and stop doing what he is told. That is why people voted for him in the first place. I ask this question Pete! What have the Labour Party gained by getting rid of Phil Goff?

      • Answer – far less experience.

      • I was hopeful that Shearer would be a different sort of leader, like many people. He is becoming a party PR puppet with far more gaffes than Goff.

        I’m very disappointed with him, and there’s no sign of him changing into his true self.

  2. Darryl

     /  November 19, 2012

    True. But at the end of the day Phil Goff is a lot better, than either Shearer or Cunliffe by a mile. He also has a likeable personality, which is sadly missing.