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What Donald Trump could learn from Andrew Little

Donald Trump. Photo/Getty Images

If Donald Trump wants leadership lessons, he could do worse than ask Andrew Little.

Nothing more clearly underlines the difference between the political scenes in the US and New Zealand than the events in both capitals over the past couple of weeks.

Andrew Little’s decision to exit stage left from the Labour leadership after a series of disastrous polls was, in comparison with the shambles of Washington, a model of decorum. It was speedy, good-natured and done with dignity and it probably provided Labour with more able leadership as it goes into an election campaign just a few weeks away.

In contrast, we see chaos in the Administration of US President Donald Trump, disarray in the Republican Party, a hamstrung, impotent Senate and an unceasing plunge of White House lemmings over the political cliff.

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Of course, we should have expected a deluge of firings and resignations in the Trump White House. After all, the President made his name on long-running reality TV series The Apprentice, where he got to fire someone every week. That he should continue to follow that practice as boss of the country is unsurprising.

The most fascinating departure was that of Trump director of communications Anthony Scaramucci after barely 10 days in the job. To recap, in trying to plug a leak from the White House to the media, Scaramucci rang a New Yorker journalist, ranted, swore, blackguarded his colleagues, threatened to fire his whole communications team and then probably leaked to the journalist himself.

Speaking as someone who once had a reputation for launching foul-mouthed tirades at journalists, I can tell Scaramucci he made some basic mistakes. First, he did not ask for his conversation with the reporter to be off the record and was not clear that he should not be quoted directly.

Second, he should not have demanded the journalist reveal his source, because that’s something they don’t do. Third, he should not have threatened to bring the FBI and other agencies in to investigate a party-political issue. And last, he should not have bagged his masters and he certainly should not have leaked that the chief of staff was being asked to resign.

That Trump should have appointed a communications director who was unable to publicly communicate effectively or deal with the media is symptomatic of his dysfunctional, incompetent and chaotic Administration.

Strangely enough, if he was looking for an example of how to lead, he could do worse than take lessons from Andrew Little. Not that Little could be regarded as a strong, effective leader. But he bravely took responsibility for the failures of his party.

Faced with too many opinion polls showing the percentage of public support for Labour plummeting towards the darkness of the low 20s, he resigned. Graciously.

He threw his support behind Jacinda Ardern who, theoretically, has the communications skills to pull Labour back up the polls to a point where, in a three-way coalition with the Greens and New Zealand First, it might feasibly cobble together a government.

Curiously, over the past 10 years, Labour has had a succession of decent, honourable leaders but keeps chucking them out and replacing them with the next decent honourable leader. Its fate now hinges on Ardern’s ability to attract more votes or, at least, Labour votes back from the Greens.

Is she Labour’s saviour or an empty vessel? The next few weeks will tell. When the levels of support for the centre-right and centre-left blocs are tallied, they’re not that far apart. By changing its packaging, Labour may be able to improve its brand and close that gap. Then again, maybe not.

Every New Zealand election seems to have its “August surprise” and this, apparently, was it.

This article was first published in the August 12, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.