|06WELLINGTON268||2006-04-10 19:11:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Wellington|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000268
1. (SBU) Summary: After two full terms in power, PM Clark has
failed to effectively rejuvenate her Labour Party's ranks. Labour's
lack of recognizable next generation leadership could be a real
handicap over the short to-medium term, especially as the opposition
National Party has a number of capable new MPs. End Summary.
Labour's Icarus syndrome.
2. (SBU) Labour's rising stars appear to be plagued with an
affliction: those who fly too high plummet rapidly back to earth.
Since Labour come to power in 1999, a pattern has emerged in which
soon after Labour MPs have been anointed as potential future leaders
they make career damaging missteps. The tag "the next big thing"
increasingly seems to be the kiss of death for a budding Labour MP.
Parker the latest in a line of fallen Clark protgs
3. (SBU) Former Cabinet Minister David Parker (reftel) is only the
latest of Clark's rising Labour stars to fall off his perch. The
first was Lianne Dalziel. Touted as a potential Labour leader when
she came to Parliament in 1990 and named by Time magazine as a
future world leader in 1995, Dalziel acquired increasingly important
Cabinet assignments in quick succession. Her run was interrupted
when she resigned from Cabinet in 2004 after being caught in a lie
over leaking a document to the media.
4. (SBU) The second to go was John Tamihere, the charismatic former
MP identified early on by some analysts as a possible first Maori
Prime Minister. He too fell to earth after being implicated in
financial malfeasance in his iwi (tribe). He then gave an interview
that he claims did not know he was giving, in which he poured scorn
upon members of his own caucus, including Clark herself. After being
marginalized by his party, Tamihere refused to go on the Labour list
and is now out of Parliament altogether after losing his
constituency seat at the last election.
5. (SBU) Unlike Tamihere, whose future in Labour Party politics
looks distinctly bleak, Clark has indicated to the press that Parker
might return to Cabinet if he is cleared of accusations that he
falsified documents related to his business. Indeed, Clark has a
predisposition to rehabilitate disgraced MPs whom she thinks still
could add value in her government. The obvious precedent is Dalziel,
who after being out in the political wilderness for twenty months
was brought by Clark back into the Cabinet after the 2005 election
and now hold three portfolios. Dalziel is no longer touted as a
rising star, however, and Parker may find the same fate. Clark has
to balance her party's need for a competent next generation with the
desire to avoid controversies that the now-strengthened opposition
Labour caucus short on commercial experience.
6. (SBU) Parker and Tamihere were regarded as new generation Labour
politicians, who would, over time, front the major commercial
portfolios in the Clark administration. Their departure from the
immediate scene leaves only David Cunliffe as a new generation
Labour MP with a credible business background.
7. (SBU) As a former Fulbright Scholar, Harvard Business graduate,
management consultant, and diplomat who once served in Washington,
Cunliffe has impeccable business credentials. As such, he is an
anomaly in a caucus full of former trade unionists and teachers. In
Clark's effort to maintain the confidence of the business community
with new and experienced political talent, Cunliffe stands out. Yet,
it is uncertain to whether he is able to build strong support within
his own caucus in order to move into a vaunted leadership role in
the future. Some analysts note that Cunliffe's interpersonal skills
leave a lot to be desired and he reportedly has few friends within
the Labour caucus.
Labour's newest "next big thing".
8. (SBU) The latest Labour MP who has been widely tipped for future
leadership is new high-flying list MP Shane Jones. Like Tamihere
before him, Jones is viewed by some analysts as a future Maori Prime
Minister. Yet, already there are signs that Jones could be destined
9. (SBU) In late 2005, mere months after entering Parliament, Jones
faced a political storm when the opposition National Party
questioned his intention to stay on as the paid chairman of a Maori
Fisheries Commission. Clark herself was not happy about Jones'
alleged conflict of interest and it was ultimately agreed that he
would remain as Chairman for an undefined transition period. Clark's
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reason for quickly moving to try clear up this matter goes beyond
protecting Labour's newest political star from a premature downfall.
Jones is also chairman of Parliament's powerful Finance and
Expenditure Committee. An inference that the committee's Labour
chairman is involved in a conflict of interest would further add to
the Government's growing reputation for political sleaze.
Labour alleges a dirty plot
10. (SBU) The political troubles of both Parker and Tamihere were
brought to light by Ian Wishart, a journalist who once worked for
former Labour Prime Minister Mike Moore. "Investigate," the
magazine Wishart founded in 2000, is an influential publication sold
in both New Zealand and Australia. Seen by some as the New Zealand
version of Woodward and Bernstein, others accuse born-again
Christian Wishart of having an anti-Labour, conservative agenda.
Wishart counters that his publication has also "annoyed the Right in
the past". Unconvinced, or at least threatened, Clark in a recent
radio interview called Wishart a "little creep".
The next in line - the short game.
11. (SBU) Despite Clark's efforts to change the subject, the makeup
of a post-Clark Labour Party is becoming an increasing common parlor
game among political analysts and the media. It is widely assumed
that the contest for the next Labour leadership battle will be
between the moderate wing and the traditional left-leaning faction
of the Labour Party. Defense Minister Phil Goff reportedly leads the
moderate faction. The left-leaning wing is more splintered, however,
with Ministers Steve Maharey and Trevor Mallard being the lead
contenders. Despite the rumors, Clark has not identified an heir
apparent. Nor have any of the leading contenders openly articulated
their own ambitions. There is very much a sense that Labour has yet
to decide upon a leadership plan.
The National Party
12. (SBU) Contrast the uncertainty of the succession question within
Labour to that of the National Party. Most commentators see as
inevitable the rise of John Key, National's Finance spokesman, to
replace Don Brash in the top slot. Although Key publicly backs away
from talk of a leadership challenge to Brash, the impetus is firmly
behind him as the public is becoming increasingly cognizant of his
leadership credentials. Significantly, Key now ranks third in
preferred Prime Minister polling, behind Clark and Brash.
(Ironically, John Tamihere ranks fourth, ahead of Finance Minister
Michael Cullen and Defense Minister Goff.) National also has a
number of other competent younger MPs, many of whom entered
Parliament during September's extremely close general election.
Lack of renewal and new talent will hurt Labour going forward
13. (SBU) Comment: It seems unlikely that further cabinet
re-shuffles will rid Labour of its ever-growing image of staleness.
The failure to bring enough fresh and expert eyes to look at
existing problems also means Labour may go into the next election
short of new and innovative ideas. Measured up against a rejuvenated
National opposition, Labour's lack of new blood may well be all the