Dene Mackenzine looks at the people who could be the next Labour leader:
The contest to replace Prime Minister Helen Clark might be less brutal and more clear cut than previous leadership challenges, depending on the outcome of the election this year.
Less brutal leadership change? Now there’s an oxymoron.
If, as Miss Clark continues to believe, Labour can cobble together a coalition government, then she remains safe and can leave in her own time, having taken Labour to a historic fourth-term win.
But if Labour loses and the election result is close, party sources believe Trade Minister Phil Goff is the principal candidate for the job.
He is seen as a safe replacement who would not shift Labour markedly away from its centre-left position.
Although he is tainted with having been an MP in the Rogernomics era, many of Labour’s supporters are too young to remember Sir Roger Douglas and his ideas in the David Lange-led government.
If a week is a long time in politics, two decades is ancient history.
Police Minister Annette King is seen as the logical deputy leader for Mr Goff, to give the party a gender balance and an Auckland-Wellington split.
Pity about the mess she created in health, the EFA and last week’s Road User Charge debacle. And let’s not forget blaming crime on the full moon and sunny weather.
The last four opinion polls published show National’s support at more than 50% and its lead over Labour at more than 20 points.
If the polls hold up, Labour could lose up to 18 MPs, including electorate members.
Polls usually tighten before an election – although this time Labour might be where National was in 2002.
If the defeat is not too broad, Mr Goff will be challenged by Health Minister David Cunliffe and Labour Minister Trevor Mallard.
Both would bring with them an image problem.
Mr Cunliffe was identified early in his career as a potential leader, but has earned the disdain of some colleagues for his “superior” attitude.
That has mellowed somewhat and as health minister, and also as communications minister, he has shown a preparedness to take a hands-on approach to his portfolios.
But over at Craig Foss we see that those hands haven’t always done the right thing.
However, that’s another story so back to the ODT:
Mr Mallard was demoted for punching National Party MP Tau Henare, but retains strong friendships in the Labour caucus and is deputy finance minister.
As a former chief whip, he knows how to gather the numbers for a close vote.
A decimation of Labour will see other candidates chancing their arm in the belief that it will take Labour six years, or two terms, to win office.
Energy Minister David Parker and Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove will mount challenges.
Neither is particularly popular with colleagues, and Mr Cosgrove will be a fiercer competitor than Mr Parker.
Mr Cosgrove has been a member of the party since he was 14, and is a protege of former prime minister Mike Moore.
Mr Parker is seen more in the mould of former prime minister Sir Wallace (Bill) Rowling, and would offer a leadership style out of step with modern politics.
That’s the one who looked more surprised than anyone else when he won Otago in 2002 and few were surprised when he lost it to Jacqui Dean three years later.
Also in the mix at this level will be Building and Construction Minister Shane Jones, a Maori MP of whom was expected great things.
He is said to be “hugely bright” but pompous and obviously ambitious.
Not a good combination if you’re trying to win a leaderhsip contest.
•Labour wins: Helen Clark stays as prime minister.
•Labour loses narrowly: Phil Goff takes over early next year.
•Labour loses moderately: Mr Goff, David Cunliffe and Trevor Mallard fight it out.
•Labour thumped: Free for all, with David Parker, Clayton Cosgrove and Shane Jones fancying their chances.
All very interesting, but the really fascinating point is that this discussion is being had at all. A few months ago leadership change woudn’t have been on anyone’s radar.