Death by a thousand ill-disciplined cuts

At a time when the Prime Minister is spending the two week school holidays in Hawaii, it might seem a little odd for the leader of opposition to be savaged for spending three days skiing in Queenstown with his family. Nonetheless, Labour’s polling has recently been consistently under 30%, while National of late has seldom been below 50%.

And thus Stuff.co.nz published an article in which a “party source” delivers a few choice quotes about David Cunliffe’s work ethic:

“A lot of MPs are really f….. off about it,” the insider said.

“They are all working hard up and down the country, and f…… Cunliffe is on holiday. Guys like [Phil] Goff and [Annette] King and [David] Shearer, these guys really want it badly and they are working like their lives depend on it. And I think they are a little incredulous about what the guy is doing.”

And:

“It sounds a little treasonous, but the guy doesn’t want it badly enough. If he did, he would be working. I think it is disgraceful behaviour, and not the sort of behaviour becoming of a guy who wants to be prime minister.

“We will be having a talk to David at caucus about his work ethic on Tuesday. We’ll be letting him know he’s got two months to turn this around, and we’re backing him and right behind him but he’s got to lift his game.”

As a deliberate hatchet job, it’s a beauty. Terrible weekend press coverage results, plus the story drags into next week as Cunliffe faces a line of questioning about whether he’s got the full support of his MPs and whether they confronted him about his holiday.

For Cunliffe, it feeds into a vicious circle. Labour needs to show some discipline to get its poll results up, but until its poll results climb there’ll be ongoing ill-disciplined white-anting of the leader by some of the party’s MPs.

So why this particular attack?

The insider believed up to 20 of the 33 Labour MPs were deeply unhappy with Cunliffe’s leadership, but had accepted that an attempt to dump him this late in the term would backfire.

The above quote from the Stuff.co.nz story might just hold a clue. Cunliffe has stated that he intends to stay on as leader, whether Labour loses or not. His caucus has no time left to roll him before the election, and he’s not going to go easily after the election. The test therefore for Cunliffe is whether he can increase Labour’s party vote from its 2011 level. If he increases the vote, he’s got an arguable case to remain as leader, at least in the eyes of the unions and membership; if Labour drops below their abysmal 2011 result, he’ll surely have to wave the white flag and depart.

Is someone from Labour’s ABC camp with a safe electorate seat working to keep Labour’s polling in the low- to mid-twenties, just to make sure Cunliffe goes? Hmm… It sounds ridiculous, but the problem with Labour’s Parliamentary team these days is that you just never know…

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