This post canvasses the huge job facing Labour's next leadership, and learns a few lessons from National's recent history.
A huge job.
It's hard to get your head around the scale of the task the next leadership team in the Labour Party faces.
At the core of the job is to create and communicate an alternative to recession economics as preached by Key and English, and to build a hopeful narrative of change and growth to counterpoint the fear/debt mix deployed so effectively by National this year.
They need to work out the ways to get that across to people who do or might vote Labour, and to maintain those messages and narratives for the whole three years, to create a climate where people want to change.
Doing the hard grunt analysis and policy work, and getting the message right, requires smart thinking and broad engagement with what's happening locally and globally. It requires great research and insight. Fantastic political judgement, and a ruthless determination to apply our values to today, not yesterday.
The new team will need to do and talk about politics sufficiently differently that the little sparkle of interest created by the current leadership race in Labour's future carries on into the new year, and builds new membership and activism in the Party.
They need to work with the New Zealand Council see through a successful programme of reform that improves Labour's ability to organise. That requires members/supporters and money to drive more voter contact and voter persuasion. The reform programme also needs to improve the role of members in the party, and improve candidate selection.
They need to fend off the political depradations of NZ First to the right, and the Greens to the left; animate and energise Labour's base; and then reach out and be open to securing the votes of middle of the road voters who chose to stay with National.
They will need to pull every single Labour MP into roles they are well suited to, as spokespeople, organisers, and supporters of change throughout the Labour Party.
It's one hell of a job.
Of all these things, I think the most important is the first one. If we don't have a credible programme of reform that can actually make people better off, then we won't be able to build the politics around it to win.
And, to be frank, it'll not be much worth winning if all we do is continue to make life worse for most people, which is exactly what National's policy framework of failure is going to do in 2011-2014.
Learning from the Nats.
There's the other angle too, to learn from our opponents.
Think about how Key got to where he is today.
With his attractive back story, he entered Parliament in 2002 and was finance spokesman in time to really take on (and in some ways beat) Cullen during the 2005 campaign.
While he was doing that, the National Party organisation was restructuring itself into a far more effective body, with improved internal governance and so on.
A leader who could motivate the base was in place, leading to a sharply higher vote in 2005 and massive flows of money and membership.
Simultaneously, despite Brash's inclinations, National was ditching the far right policies of the late 1990s and starting to talk about issues that mattered to voters.
Then Key took over in 2006, moderated further, ran a relatively unified caucus on top of a well-resourced party, and took on Clark at the end of a long Labour government as a fresh and positive face flying into dark and stormy times.
The point I suppose I am making is that the successful thing about Key isn't only his back story. That helped voters listen to him and still does. But he is a success because of all the other things - successful reform, big well resourced party, ideas in touch with the times.
That is why I said in my last post that we need to change, and change big time. It's why I said there is no silver bullet in a particular leader.
We remain lucky that in the Davids, we have people who can do many of these things. I refuse to choose between them, because my voice does not count in the choice.
I'll keep posting thoughts about what I think the task is that we face, because the task does not change, regardless of who our leader is.
That task is hard stuff, and we'll all need to work together to make it happen.