“You have a new leader and he has a different style. No disrespect to Helen, I think that Helen was a great prime minister. I do things somewhat differently.” Phil Goff
10 years ago National was in disarray and Labour was on the cusp of political victory. This weekend was Labour’s first post-defeat annual party conference. How to capture the media’s-and therefore the public’s- attention when you are still swinging low in the polls?
Hardly a chariot, but the political vehicle of choice was soon plain to see. TV One’s news item* on the conference on Friday featured an anonymous black leather suited rider clambering onto a Triumph motorcycle outside the conference venue and riding into the distance.
At the end of the news clip the motorcycle returned and the driver’s helmet was removed to show… Darth Vader?… a secret patchwearing gang refugee escaping the Laws of Whanganui?…. no…. Labour Leader Phil Goff, wearing a goofy grin because he was firmly in the saddle.
(Not on a Harley like Winston in 2008, but this was a big step up -or down- from the Heartland Bus. At least Goff displayed more agility than Don Brash managed in 2005 when he climbed into a stock car when he, too was the new leader of main opposition party and keen to shed his Reserve Bank reserve. For his good sportsmanlike pains Brash was put in the media stocks for all to mock.)
The other non-motorcyclists in Friday’s TV item were party members off to the conference most, seemingly, wearing black, open necked shirts– not so much displaying their Destiny as showing their solidarity with the keyless and tieless.
The themes of Labour’s 2009 conference were recant, regroup and reconnect with the people. New Labour president Andrew Little did not want to belittle Labour’s achievements during its nine years in power but did want to pose the question: “…we might ask ourselves if sometimes in the last nine years, we got the priorities wrong”. This was hardly the breast beating mea culpas of the Russian show trials of the 1930s but it did display a hint of humility in the wake of a near decade of hubris.
“We are going through a phase of listening to people at the moment, identifying what are the things that really annoyed people, or that people are really unhappy with,” according to Rimutaka MP Chris Hipkins.
Even if the young MP looks like he’s come down in the last shower, the light bulb-eco-friendly or not- has flicked on at least momentarily. It is one of the ironies of politics that “listening to the people” is at its most acute when a party has taken a bath or an early shower and is years away from any realistic prospect of inhabiting the corridors of power.
Easy Rider Goff has had an easy ride into the leader’s seat. Helen Clark’s handy United Nations assignment in New York and and Michael Cullen’s equally well timed resignation led to a pretty smooth political triumph with little noise and less blood on the floor then that caused by some of John Key’s Cabinet appointments.
However, the Labour leader is still politically between Rock and a hard place. His exit and re-entry were more about the election cycle than the motorcycle.
The big question is who’s still afraid of Steppenwolf? Even suited up for a triumphal entry to his first Labour Party conference as leader, Phil Goff was born to be mild*. Thunderbirds are go now, but how many more years before he’s on his bike- Goff and he’s off?
Lyall Lukey 13 September 2009 http://www.lukey.co.nz/