David Shearer’s leadership story

When members of the public have talked together about NZ Labour Leader David Shearer, the topic has been his leadership.

We found this when we reviewed online discussion about Shearer over the past three months.

The only time Shearer has been discussed was the two times his leadership was at risk (the Labour Conference in November 2012 and the confirmation vote in early February 2013). See graph below.

Over the period Shearer made other announcements and public appearances. But only the leadership issues resulted in significant public discussion.

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This reveals that internal doubt is itself a catalyst for public doubt. That is not to say that that Labour’s doubt is unfounded – it is a expression of what many people feel as they watch Shearer in action. But our scan of the three months of online discussion confirms that public discussion of the topic had come to be initiated by Labour itself.

Failing leadership has therefore become the “story” around Shearer. As long as there is evidence for doubting it, in the shape of his peers, the narrative holds. Shearer’s only hope for changing the narrative was to stop the internal discussion. He may have done that – but he now needs to replace the narrative with topics of his own design that resonate with the public. He’s still struggling to find that voice. If he takes too long, then the leadership narrative will re-emerge.

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