David Cunliffe has just been stitched up – caught in a trap he should have seen coming a mile off.
After Maurice Williamson’s fall from grace over his interference in a police investigation on behalf of Donghua Liu, Labour have been having a field day accusing National of accepting “cash for access”. Earlier this week, somewhat awkwardly for Labour, someone in the party revealed that Donghua Liu had donated $15,000 to Labour back in 2007. Not only did this undermine Labour’s attack on National, the $15,000 donation doesn’t appear to have ever been disclosed. (I’m making the assumption that because the anonymous source was correct about Rick Barker’s meeting with Mr Liu in China, they’re also correct about the $15,000 donation.)
So when the NZ Herald yesterday asked David Cunliffe a series of questions about his personal association with Mr Liu, alarm bells should have been going off in Mr Cunliffe’s head. Here’s the Herald questions to Cunliffe:
Q: Do you recall ever meeting Liu?
A: I don’t recall ever meeting him, no.
Q: Did you have anything to do with the granting of his permanent residency?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Did you advocate on his behalf at all?
Q:Were you aware of any advice against granting him permanent residency?
A: Not to my recollection.
Cunliffe should have known that he was being set up. Rather than an outright denial of ever advocating for Mr Liu, he should have been hedging his bets, saying that he had no recollection of doing so, just as he did with most of the Herald’s questions. Once they had the denial, it was always going to be open season on him once the letter from Cunliffe’s office turned up (copy of the letter attached here).
Over at the Standard, Lynn Prentice makes an interesting point as to whether David Cunliffe ever met Donghua Liu:
The letter was signed by him back in 2003 – more than 11 years ago. He was a busy backbencher with a large constituency workload. Dozens of similar letters would have been sent each week. The vast majority would have been prepared by his staff, shoved in front of him, and signed. In all likelihood he never met Donghua Liu.
Electorate MPs always have a great deal of trust in their electorate staff. They really don’t have any choice. They have competently handled thousands of individual constituency cases of which this looks like only one. In all likelihood David never met the guy, and only saw the form letter to sign.
On 3News this evening, Patrick Gower stated that the letter proved that Cunliffe had met Liu. Frankly, I agree with Mr Prentice. The letter proves nothing of the sort. It proves that Liu approached Cunliffe’s office, nothing more. I’m no expert in how MPs run their constituency offices, but from the examples I’ve seen, you don’t need to have actually met with the MP for them to advocate on your behalf. The phrase “I have been approached by my constituent…” does not necessarily mean “I have met my constituent…”. It means their office has been approached. An MP can sign a form letter, advocating for a constituent who has approached their office, without ever having physically met that constituent.
I’d have to say though, that’s beside the point. As much as I may feel sorry for Mr Cunliffe for failing to recollect a letter signed for a constituent eleven years ago, who he might not have even met at the time, the sin is the lack of political nous – not comprehending the coming storm when the signs became obvious. National has spent countless months painting Cunilffe as “tricky”. It’s a catch cry utilised with monotonous regularity. Cunliffe, to Labour’s detriment, continues to keep the “tricky” campaign alive.
Ninety-five days out from an election, and struggling with terrible party and personal poll ratings, it’s one hell of a trap for Cunliffe to have fallen into.