My impressions of future New Zealand Prime Minister Phil Goff by underground

A month or so back, I saw then trade minister Phil Goff speak at a pre-election foreign affairs debate at the Owen Glenn Building at Auckland University. Despite the high calibre of political minds present, an unfortunately small crowd attended, made to appear even smaller by the huge venue. It is a shame that more did not get to witness the debate, as one politician clearly stood out above all others. Labour’s Phil Goff left his opponents in his wake; Jim Anderton was the next most impressive, a strong debater with a quick wit, Gordon Copeland was good although naive at times, Keith Locke was knowledgeable but lack assertion, and Act’s Peter Tashkoff has been living in a cave. Even National’s Tim Groser seemed to agree Goff was in a league of his own, in that despite his clear trade experience he seemed more ready to point to Goff’s superb record than illustrate his own credentials or National’s focuses in the area. When questions were fired at the stage from the audience Goff readily took the lead, fielding most the questions no matter how hostile. Almost as though intimidated, most of the other debaters left him to it, with the exception of Anderton and perhaps Locke and Grosser. I still remember the fiery response Goff gave a Communist League candidate in the audience who launched into Goff on Afghanistan. The crowd seemed universally impressed, as did the candidates. Most remarkable was how he spoke. Whilst others stood, at times, timidly behind the microphone (Locke frequently had calls to speak up), Goff walked across the stage, right up to the audience and without amplification his voice still filled the auditorium. There is something immediately impressive about someone who can speak clearly at such a volume, good humoured, not aggressive, assertive and at ease. John Key is going to have his hands full in the debating chamber at parliament and in campaign debates in three years time.

Whether on the left of Labour or on the left in Labour, some are unsure whether Goff is the ideal leader for the party at the moment. Opponents point to Goff’s support for Rogernomics in the eighties. This may well be something that could prove to be a stumbling point for the new leader. He has certainly turned his back on the disastrous economic policy and is ready to slam National if they stray too far right given their support partners Act. In my mind, Phil Goff is still a lefty. Don’t forget he did once meet Fidel Castro! But he is not going to alienate voters as would a leader who is too far to the left.

In my opinion he is the perfect person for the job. He is not Helen Clark, who the voters have tired of. He is also not one of the many gaffe-prone former Labour ministers. Many a potential future leader went down in a smoke following some thoughtless remark or moment of utter stupidity. No example of Goff screwing up comes to mind, feel free to prove me wrong.

As someone supposedly to the right of the Labour party, Goff is very electable. Its all well and good for people on the left to want a socialist Labour party, but in a democracy, it would never be electorally successful. I’d prefer a centre-left government influenced by the Greens than a centre-right government dependent on Act. I believe most voters would want the same. If a more centrist Labour party ensures this reality, and smaller parties help keep social and environmental issues on the agenda, Phil Goff should make a fine leader and Prime Minister. Good luck to him!


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