I watched Patrick Gower's report on the ailing Labour Party on TV3 tonight. It appears to indicate that the Labour leadership is the most poisoned of chalices, and that Phil Goff may be safe for now. Why topple the man and be the guy (and it would probably be a guy, because all the potential leadership candidates are male) who leads the party to a potentially monumental defeat? It would take someone with real courage to step up.
On the other hand, the polls suggest that National can only win the election if it gets an outright majority, or at least close to one. If someone within Labour was prepared to back himself he could conceivably become PM in November. It would only take a change of a few percentage points in the polls. It's hard to see how things can get any worse under Goff, so what would there be to lose? And a new leader will always get a bit of media attention, so if the right man is chosen there could even be a lift in the polls.
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the seamless transition from Clark to Goff wasn't such a blessing after all. The voters rejected Labour in 2008, and in choosing the experienced Goff the party must have hoped that it was just a temporary setback and that the people would soon come to their senses. Perhaps had there been some bloodletting and a real battle for the leadership of the party, combined with a bit of realism (i.e. the Nats didn't win in 2008 because everyone who voted was drunk or stoned), this situation could have been avoided. Who knows?
Back to Gower's story. He interviewed Judith Tizard, and it became fairly clear from her refusal to endorse Phil Goff that she will be a potential problem for Labour if she exercises her right and takes the seat. She would be gone in November, so would have no incentive to toe the party line on any issue. Political parties require loyalty and discipline, and a person with no future in the party can't be relied upon to say and do the right things.
Tizard told Gower she would love to make a valedictory speech. It's an odd thing to say, but it suggests she is unhappy at the way she finished her last turn at MP and wants another go. You can only imagine the dilemma Phil Goff is now facing. How does he tell her she's not wanted without seriously pissing her off and encouraging her to take the job just to spite him? The only way she can be stopped from taking the seat is if she's not a member of the Labour Party. But I can't see any grounds to expel her from the party.
Goff's inability to turn his guns in any direction other than towards his own feet means he'll probably limp on as leader. He may even be our PM in November. But if John Key could choose the person he would most want as Labour leader, surely he would choose Phil Goff. National could yet be defeated in November, thanks to the way MMP works, but it probably won't be because of anything Phil Goff said or did.