I'm still trying to get the blood out of my socks as it was ankle deep on the floor of the Labour Party conference.
The factional abuse of the Labour Party is exactly like the Game of Thrones except with far more incest and violence.
So who are the winners and who are the losers here? It's a complicated picture with all factions winning and losing to some degree. Here are my observations from being at the conference and knowing many of the personalities involved.
Mainstream media: The ability to manipulate and manufacture what occurred at the conference into a leadership coup complete with 'Dark Forces' from Vernan Small surprised even me.
How Patrick Gower asking Cunliffe 8 times in a row whether he was challenging Shearer equates into a leadership challenge shows the ease with which a lie echoed repeatedly can become fact.
Jane Clifton and Trevor Mallard are an item and if you read her version of events at the Listener, you can't honestly tell which one of them wrote it.
The power of the MSM to manufacture a crisis was used by the ABC to crucify Cunliffe. The MSMs interest was not in the facts of the modernization of the Labour Party, their interests became the demonization of Cunliffe and the generation of a false narrative.
The media walk away being one of the clear winners in this bloodbath, but it's the kind of 'win' you gain after machine gunning everyone else in the back.
The Blogs: For a medium that had been written off as nonsense, the Blogs became a vehicle for the frustration the wider left felt at the lack of actual political direction from Shearer.
The Pagani doctrine and third way Blairite Welfare bashing complete with an imaginary beneficiary on a roof had left Labour looking less and less like the party Members and Unions wanted to be a part of. That exasperation was voiced on the Blogs.
If anything the Blogs have forced Labour an inch to the left with Labour's cheap housing for children of the middle classes and they have shown the leadership that they have a level of influence previously not seen.
Before the rise of the Blogs, disaffected members had only bitching down at the pub after a conference to fuel discontent, in the new social media world Blogs have an impact well beyond that and can energize the members needed to win in 2014.
When the debris of this massacre is cleared away, the leadership need to rethink their social media strategy.
Emotional violence: Who said the vicious power of emotional violence doesn't work in Politics? The venom spewed out by that nasty little piece of work Chris Hipkins shows how real politics works. Denigrate and demonize ones opponents and then sink the fangs in deep.
The terror created by this style of violence stuns detractors within the Party, and it works. Look at how Mike Smith on The Standard is now using that same tactic on the New Lyn LEC.
In the bear pit of politics, emotional violence silences opposition. It is a reminder to anyone seeking political office that when challenging the vested interests of the establishment, you need skin so thick it's steel plated.
Labour's Neoliberal old guard: The real winners here are Labour's neoliberal goons of yesteryear. When confronted by a real challenge by members and Unions, they responded by saddling the media manufactured 'leadership coup' and crucified the one MP who had challenged the orthodoxy of free market politics.
The grip this group (quaintly referred to as the ABC's) has within Labour has now been cemented in the short term and their purge against anyone thought to be a Cunliffe supporter will ensure their complete domination of the direction of the Party.
The Unions & the Labour Membership: Long term, they are victors. They have forced change upon the Labour Party leadership, but their victory has come at a terrible cost.
In the short term, the Party and Unions will be punished for daring to become more democratic. You can see that currently in the denouncement by MPs of Moria Coatsworth's evaluation that the leadership coup was a media beat up.
In the long term the members and unions will flex their new political muscle, but those are fruits to be savored after a couple of years of a nuclear winter.
MANA & The Greens: I wouldn't be surprised if there is a mass move by left voters away from Labour to MANA or the Greens.
I've been surprised by how many commentators on The Standard have voiced support for MANA in the wake of this, it also says something about the Greens who manage to hold a leadership vote every year without ripping themselves to pieces.
The wider balance of power to challenge the Government in 2014 won't be damaged (Labour voters won't go to National in the wake of this) but Labour are most vulnerable to attacks from the left.
The left of the Labour Party: While forcing the Caucus to the left, they have been bloodied and broken and won't get a chance to regain control of the Party until the old neoliberal guard are removed or demoted. That isn't likely in the short or medium term.
Democracy: When you consider that Cunliffe's ultimate crime was not to publicly declare who he would vote for in a secret ballot that will be held in 3 months, Democracy itself was the main loser from all of this.
As Brian Edwards righteously points out...
This fact seems to have escaped the country’s political journalists who could see nothing wrong in demanding that Cunliffe tell them who he intended to vote for in a secret ballot three months from now.
The modernization of the Labour Party, to open it up to members and unions was a great victory, but the backlash has eroded that victory to a mere symbolism for the short term.
David Shearer: The sham confidence vote is not what strong leaders do.
Shearer made a great speech at the conference and finally suggested he had listened to the demands to articulate a left wing political vision, however his management of the witch hunt has caused divisions the Party hasn't seen since the 1980s.
Brian Edwards again...
A little bird (not David Cunliffe) has told me that in the run-up to today’s emergency caucus meeting a number of Labour MPs, probably a majority, were rung by David Shearer or one of his apparatchiks seeking a cast-iron guarantee that they would be supporting Shearer today and in the constitutionally mandatory confidence vote in February.
This is both unethical and against Labour’s constitution. It makes nonsense of today’s ‘unanimous’ vote. And it makes nonsense of the February vote. If a majority of Labour MPs have yielded to this monstrous piece of bullying, that vote has in effect already been taken. Should Shearer prove a disaster over the next three months those MPs who assured him of their support in February will have no choice but to stand by him, regardless of the damage this might do to the Party.
...and Gordon Campbell...
According to one of RNZ’s Morning Report hosts this morning, David Shearer “needs to stamp his authority” on the Labour caucus over the David Cunliffe affair. Well, when people feel the need to stamp their authority on something, it usually means they don’t bring natural authority to the table, and have to over-compensate. Feeling the need to stamp your authority is usually a sign of weakness, not strength.
Not only are the attacks on Cunliffe looking disproportionate to his alleged sins, but demonising him will mean that the caucus is willing to throw overboard one of its few capable public performers and political assets. Yep, let’s keep Trevor Mallard but do our level best to end Cunliffe’s career, once and for all. That makes sense. Let’s crack down on Cunliffe but continue to let Shane Jones publicly go after our coalition allies if they dare to criticise one of his corporate donors. That’s the right thing to do.
Shearer won the battle, but the open wound on the Blogs will become quickly septic.
The real problems for Shearer are the exact same problems that generated all the resentment towards his leadership in the first place. Yes he's taken a step to the left (marginally) and yes he performed well at the Conference, but outside of that Conference has his ability to articulate that vision gotten better? Not much.
The question still becomes can he foot it one on one with Key and we have yet to see an actual answer to that.
The emotional violence meted out to Cunliffe by Mallard and Hipkins has the Party in a state of shock and awe which will quickly turn to outrage. Whatever Cunliffe's shortcomings, they must be preferable to the Party than the psychopaths prepared to wage this kind of war in public.
The reality for everyone concerned is how to move forward so that this Government gets kicked out in 2014, to that end cooler heads will be calculating issues over the Summer.
Possibility 1 - Shearer the King: This lifts Shearer and he becomes a latter day David Lange who powerfully articulates with passion a new vision for the country and he is swept into power in 2014.
For this to happen, Shearer needs to sit down and be intensively media trained. This should have happened in the first 3 months of his leadership, it clearly hasn't. He also needs to create a new social media strategy and have that person start reaching out to the Blogs with the appreciation that they are influencing the debate now and need to be brought back onside.
He needs to mollify the Party by adopting some more of their big ideas combined with a Labour Relations policy that gives the Unions more teeth.
Cunliffe's supporters need promotions and eventually Cunliffe needs to be restored to the front bench before the next election.
Odds of this happening? Based on the vicious response to being forced to become more democratic you would have to rate the odds of this as very low.
Possibility 2 - Cunliffe the Challenger: The Polls take a dive and Shearer continues to stumble through interviews with all the grace of a stunned bird after flying into a window.
This is seized upon by the Blogs, and the drumbeat for a leadership challenge in February start the call for Cunliffe to challenge.
This option has risks. The venom spat out by the ABCs wouldn't end, they have the most to lose from this and would never accept a change without damaging the Party permanently.
Odds of this happening will become a certainty if Shearer trips up in the next 3 months.
Possibility 3 - Robertson/Ardern ticket: For those not in the ABC or Cunliffe Camp, they will be watching this blood letting in despair.
Imagine the following scenario. The Robertson/Ardern ticket reach out to Cunliffe and to the Party. They offer Cunliffe Finance in exchange for his factions support in a leadership challenge that sees Grant as leader and Jacinda as deputy. It appeals to the Party because it ends the attacks and allows peace to break out.
Odds of this happening? Seeing as the only person who walks out of this factional fighting stronger is Robertson, the change of personal would give Labour the face lift they desperately need and after the last 48 hours, anything is possible.
If only the left could fight Key with as much energy as they fight each other. 2014 must be the focus and NZ is screaming out for leadership. It's a pity that Labour haven't been able to provide that to date.