Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Goff assumes the leadership

I've not had a lot to do with Phil Goff though I've long admired him as a political operator. He was opposition justice spokesman when I was at the Ministry of Justice; he caused us a lot of grief. He was consistent and focused. Our Minister, the sauve and confident Doug Graham, was wary; Goff clearly had both a strategy and the ability to effectively implement it.

Earlier still Goff was the target of my frustration at the prospect of paying what now seem entirely reasonable student fees. That said, as soon as I saw Phil up close, I developed a respect for his thoroughness, his focus, his passion and his damn good humour.

When Goff was moved back to Justice and Corrections a year or so back, I thought it was a good move; a move designed to neuter Power. Combined with King's move to Police, I hoped it would stiffle the inevitable law and order beat-up. Initially it did. In fact, even as Parliament drew to a close, Goff was easily dismissing Power's attempts to paint the government as weak. They're not. Phil Goff has run law and order throughout Labour's three terms in government. As others have frequently pointed out, the rate of offending has not skyrocketed, escapees are not swanning about the local shops and Police numbers have expanded. Still, the ravings of the Sensible Sentencing Trust have seen the revival of the crazy policies like ACTs three strikes and your out. Presumably they'd object if the three convictions were against section 59 of the Crimes Act?

QueenBee will have you believe that Goff's ascendency is a repudiation of Clark's leadership and of the left more generally. But this is based on at least two significant (and convenient) misunderstandings. First, it's a misunderstanding of Labour's policy orientation which is significantly broader than the Queen cares to recall. Secondly, it misunderstands the legacy of discipline Labour has embraced since 1996.

It's far more likely that Key should be wary of English than Goff should be wary of any other aspirant. Whereas Key can claim he delivered National government, he will have to prove he's capable of running one. Goff has no such worries.

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