With Phil Goff’s accession to the leadership, Labour looks set to provide National with serious competition. Phil is easily one of the brightest and hardest working politicians in the country, a very effective debater and highly credible alternative prime minister. As the Herald put it in an otherwise muddled (downright stupid in places) editorial:
“Mr Goff has many of the attributes of Helen Clark: wide ministerial experience, a good command of all issues, instinctive common sense and a sure political touch. And he is a more forceful public speaker than she is.”
Yes, that political astuteness. Way back in the spring of 1981, I went out canvassing with Phil in Mt Roskill, where he was standing for the first time. It would be fair to say that some of the good burghers we met held very traditional views and were sceptical of the progressive ideas that the Labour Party had acquired. Goff disarmed them with simple, persausive reasoning that spoke to their values and concerns, reflecting his own background in South Auckland.
I’d be surprised if these voters didn’t comprise a large part of the “Labour-plus” group that National managed to prise away from Labour at this election. Or who stayed home. National can’t afford to take these people for granted now.
More recently, I went with a couple of very eminent professors to lobby Phil on university salary funding. He had taken the trouble to get a briefing on the subject from Wellington, and impressed my colleagues with his incisive but gentle and respectful questioning of our assumptions. Deeply impressed them.
A few years ago Phil’s more “centrist” position would have ruled him out of contention for the leadership. It took a long time for some of us to forgive him for his involvement with the neo-liberal reforms in the 1980s. His hard line on law and order probably causes some disquiet in the ranks even now.
However, much of the damage caused by the neo-liberal revolution has been repaired, and priorities have shifted. Further, as Steve Pierson points out, the Labour Party policy-making process is not as subject to the leader’s whim as is National’s, and Phil’s influence over the Party’s policy will be limited.
With people’s focus on economic security, he looks right for the times. Capable and competent, sharp as a tack.
I certainly don’t buy the dopey stuff in today’s Herald editorial about the need for someone “fresher, younger.” Phil’s only in his mid-fifties! No, this cult of the youth stuff the Herald is retailing is about setting up a destabilising narrative that will sell more newspapers. It’s up to Phil to prove them wrong.
I think that he has what it takes.
Update: Perfect. After just one day as leader, Phil Goff comes out with a measured admission that the way that the EFA was introduced and some of its provisions were not “as good as it could have been.” He said he will work with other parties to review the Act. Many of those NZers who stayed home or switched to National will see this as reasonable, constructive and just what they’re looking for in a leader. And he’s caught National on the hop.
Clever. Very, very clever.
Neil Stockley’s more detailed take here.
[Disclaimer: For some years I counted myself a friend of Phil's. But that came to an end in the fractious late 1980s. Sadly.]