Death by a thousand cuts for Cunliffe

When Stuart Nash called for David Cunliffe to immediately face a confidence vote in caucus, he was inadvertently playing into Cunliffe’s hands. Cunliffe knows when a confidence vote is held, he’ll lose. He has no hope of getting 60% plus one MP to side with him. His best chance of remaining leader is to lose the confidence vote early, and square off against his challenger(s) before the members and unions who put him there desert him.

Unfortunately for David Cunliffe, his caucus enemies are well aware of that. MPs such as David Shearer and Phil Goff have made it clear that they’ll be pushing for a delayed confidence vote. They want the results of a full review of the election campaign to be published before any vote. They’re hoping that the build up to the review (involving, presumably, a few anti-Cunliffe leaks), and the review itself, will be enough to destroy Cunliffe’s support base – death by a thousand cuts, if you will.

At the time of publishing this post, the Labour Party MPs had just left their meeting room after a marathon seven hour extravaganza of a post-election caucus meeting. As Cunliffe entered, he told reporters, “We must stop the leaks, we must stop the infighting.” It was a clear message to the caucus to keep their lips sealed. Which didn’t stop David Shearer, Phil Goff, Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove from talking to reporters on their way in, minutes later, making it obvious where the anti-Cunliffe knives will be coming from. Shearer was openly combative:

“What I don’t feel is that I should be silent when we need to be acknowledging our defeat. I’ve got skin in the game here. For two of the last three years I was the leader and all I am doing is speaking very candidly about the way we should go forward which is to own our defeat and move forward on that basis.”

And here’s Damien O’Connor on Labour’s primary-style method of choosing its leader:

“I think the last one we had didn’t necessarily deliver the best outcome.”

Not exactly a subtle attack on Cunliffe.

In terms of death by a thousand cuts scenario, the NZ Herald is reporting that Labour MPs will be demanding that Cunliffe release to them the internal polling results on Cunliffe’s popularity. Apparently the results won’t look good for him. And if Cunliffe expects that the results will remain secret once released to the full caucus, well, he’s dreaming.

With a caucus of just 32, when the confidence vote arrives Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order to triumph at the first hurdle. His opponents need twenty votes to trigger a contested ballot. With Shearer, Goff, Robertson, Parker, O’Connor, Cosgrove, Nash and Davis already having lined up in opposition, the anti-Cunliffe camp is well over a third of the way there. It’s hard to believe that Labour’s terrible result, followed by Cunliffe’s astonishingly badly timed “concession” speech and election night letter to supporters seeking a new mandate to continue as leader, hasn’t already got at least twelve more MPs sharpening their knives.

Now they just need to poison the members and unions against him and the job is done. Cunliffe certainly isn’t helped by people like former party president Mike Williams appearing on National Radio’s Nine to Noon show yesterday to say that he wouldn’t go with Cunliffe again:

“I’ve always thought that there were three elements to a campaign – there’s organisation, there’s policy and there’s leadership. I think the organisation was certainly better than last time – I saw a lot more activity on the ground. I think that the policy was relatively bulletproof and I don’t think the National party scored any particular points off that. That really only leaves leadership.

“Personally at the moment I don’t think I’d go with David Cunliffe again – this is a historic defeat, it’s the worst Labour vote since 1922 – I think there are people in the wings who could potentially do a better job.”

I’d have to say, I think Cunliffe is toast, no matter when the confidence vote is held. I find it difficult to believe that he’ll pull nearly as many membership votes as he did last time, and his percentage of caucus support will be further reduced. Nonetheless, leaving the vote till after the campaign review will make doubly sure of Cunliffe’s demise.

And National rubs its hands with glee…

UPDATE (with edit as to numbers needed to force a ballot):

And there’s no immediate confidence vote, as expected.

Plus 3News reporting that Jacinda Ardern isn’t ruling out a leadership bid, albeit “reluctantly”. That’s nine public declarations of no confidence…

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