Labour’s electoral fortunes suddenly appear to hang on the appointment of an unelected backroom parliamentary official largely unknown by the public. The major political story of the week has been Matt McCarten suddenly becoming David Cunliffe’s right-hand man. Well known within the Wellington beltway and in the wider political sphere, McCarten may well be the leading leftwing activist in the country, but few people know a great deal about him.
For an in-depth introduction to McCarten, it’s well worth going to two sources in particular. The must-watch item is a recently released 22-minute TVNZ documentary on The Life and Politics of Matt McCarten. And the must-read item is Steve Braunias‘ Matt McCarten: Better red than dead. This online Metro feature is an insightful profile published in 2011 when McCarten was dying of cancer. Both items show why McCarten is both loved and loathed amongst the political community, but taken incredibly seriously by all. For a visual representation of both the past and contemporary politics of McCarten, see my blogpost of cartoons and photographs, Images of Matt McCarten.
What sort of Game Changer?
The big question being asked by all political commentators is whether the appointment of McCarten is a ‘game changer’ for Cunliffe and the Labour Party. Few seem to think that the appointment will have no impact on Labour’s fortunes. In fact, there’s almost a consensus that his appointment is indeed a ‘game changer’, but opinions differ over exactly how it will change – whether we will see a revival of Labour’s fortunes or major disaster for the party. Those are the two broad scenarios being painted at the moment.