David Cunliffe

Dinner at Donghua’s

Remember when David Cunliffe and Labour were under all sorts of fire for their links to Donghua Liu? There were questions about $100,000 worth of apparent donations from Liu to the Labour Party (an issue which seemed to collapse under the weight of some dubious NZ Herald reporting and Mr Liu’s somewhat impaired ability to recollect specifics); and Mr Cunliffe was being stitched up regarding his failure to recall a letter written on behalf of Liu eleven years previous.

Here was what Bill English had to say last year, as he put the boot into Labour:

“In the next few days the Labour Party has to come clean about every contact with Mr Donghua Liu and every donation from him… The reason the Labour Party has to explain all those contacts and donations is that no one trusts what David Cunliffe says about the donations and the contacts with Mr Donghua Liu.”

Well, all of the time that National was needling Labour about alleged undisclosed donations from Liu, there was a $25,000 undisclosed donation to National.

It’s been revealed that National’s Botany MP, Jami-Lee Ross, received a $25,000 donation from Mr Liu in August 2013. It’s only just being disclosed by Mr Ross, after having been returned to Liu in November 2014.

It’s the cynical nature of the whole affair that gets me; cynical in so many ways.

Firstly, the donation was made less than a month after both John Key and Jami-Lee Ross were present at Mr Liu’s house for a private dinner. Yet, when Key was questioned in May 2014 (approximately eight months after the dinner) about his links to Liu, a National spokesperson said:

“As Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, Mr Key attends a number of functions up and down the country which are attended by a large number of people. While we don’t have a record of who attends these events, Mr Key recalls seeing Mr Liu at various functions, including a dinner as part of a National Party fundraiser.”

Key could recall “a dinner”, but presumably chose to conceal the fact that the dinner was at Mr Liu’s own home.

Secondly, there’s the way in which the donation was kept hidden. Throughout all of the mock outrage from National about what Liu had donated to Labour and when, the party knew that $25,000 was sitting in a National Party bank account. It’s inconceivable that Jami-Lee Ross wouldn’t tap his party leader on the shoulder and say, “Heads up – remember that dinner with Donghua Liu? Well, he gave me $25,000 that month.”

Ross, Key and whoever else was in the loop would have known that at some point the donation would have to be declared. So Ross waits for a month or two after the general election, sends it back via Liu’s lawyer, and pretends that it was surplus to requirements and therefore returned. The donation gets officially declared in Ross’s post-election return, but by then Cunliffe is a distant memory, National is well and truly re-elected, and there’s now another two and a half years to the next election – plenty of time for the public to forget about Dongua Liu.

But National’s cynicism aside, there are some questions regarding the status of the donation. If it was a donation to the National Party, it should have been disclosed in National’s Party Donations Return that was filed on 30 April 2014. It wasn’t.

Mr Liu has described the donation as being through the “Botany Cabinet Club”. If that’s code for Jami-Lee Ross’s personal campaign, the party wouldn’t need to declare it. Instead, it’s up to Mr Ross to do so in his post-election return (as he’s done).

However, Mr Ross has stated that he didn’t end up needing the $25,000 because a $24,000 donation from the National Party covered his expenses. So why would Ross be seeking donations for his electorate campaign, if the party was going to be covering him? Or, to look at it the other way, why would the party cover Ross’s campaign expenses when he’s already got $25,000 sitting waiting in the bank account?

As with anything involving Donghua Liu and politicians, more questions seem to lurk…

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Labour and the polls

When Andrew Little was first elected to the Labour leadership last year, everyone I knew seemed a little dumbfounded. No one, whatever their political stripes, thought him a good choice, with their reasons generally ranging from his apparently humourless personality to his union credentials. Labour had doomed itself, was the general consensus.

Of course, Mr Little then failed to make a right hash of things. In fact, with his “Cut the crap” soundbite, he got a fair bit of positive press coverage, and seemed to have united many Labour Party doubters behind him.

Nonetheless, despite that good initial run of form from him, the mood from the streets of Gisborne, Rotorua and wherever else I wandered remained circumspect. People expected Little to come a cropper sooner or later (perhaps sooner rather than later), and they were hardly likely to switch allegiance to (or back to) Labour until the party had shown it could offer some degree of basic competency.

On Sunday, we had the first television poll of the year: TV3’s Reid Research poll. There was good news for Labour – it was on 29.1%; up 3.5% (or up 4% on its election night result) and close to the near-respectability figure of 30%. And 55% of voters thought that Mr Little was “potentially a better match for Mr Key than his predecessors”.

Leaving aside the usefulness or otherwise of including the word “potentially” in that last polling question, the results really aren’t great news for Labour. For a start, National was up 5.3% to 49.8% (or up 2.8% on their election night result). Labour’s rise in support didn’t come from National…

It’s the post-election summer, and until this frenetic last week, politics has been off everyone’s agenda. With no media exposure, the smaller parties have suffered:

  • The Greens were down 5.1% to 9.3% (or down 1.4% from election night), having had little more than bad publicity since the election after their lacklustre 10.7% showing.
  • NZ First is on 6.9%, down 1.9% on its election night result (although down just 0.2% on the pre-election TV3 poll).
  • The Conservatives are on 2.7%, down 2.2% from the last TV3 poll and down 1.3% from the election.
  • Internet Mana are on just 0.6%, down 1.4% from the last TV3 poll and down 0.8% from the election.

Labour and National have basically just profited from the usual post-election lack of exposure that the minor parties tend to suffer. Labour’s 29.1% leaves the party no closer to governing. National’s back in governing alone territory.

And Andrew Little’s preferred Prime Minister rating was just 9.8%. It’s not a dreadful debut, but it’s still 2.5% less than the terminally disliked David Cunliffe was polling.

Really all that can be said about the TV3 poll results are that there is still more than two and a half years to run until the next election, so it’s early days yet. Plenty of time for Little and Labour to build on an error-free Parliamentary term. Or plenty of time for an implosion.

Like a cult…

When a party loses badly, the public expects a bit of sorrowful wailing and beating of breasts. To say “This is what we did wrong, and this is how we’ll fix it” is an important part of restoring trust with the electorate. David Cunliffe didn’t appear to appreciate that, which contributed to the demise of his leadership aspirations. The remaining candidates certainly have accepted the need for a show of party penitence. There have been promises of full-scale policy review, and greater listening to the public (whatever that may mean).

David Parker has taken the penitence to a new level, saying that Labour occasionally “almost feels like a cult” and that it must look at its branding, including its use of the colour red.

Quite what Mr Parker was intending with his comments is a mystery. It’s all very well to get the public on side with a show of remorse for the electoral beating Labour has just suffered, but describing your party as “like a cult” hardly seems likely to foster a feeling of public affection.

Further, Mr Parker is still engaged in a contest in which the membership will vote. And publicly describing the party as “like a cult” seems rather like a direct attack on the membership. Likening the activist base and general party hierarchy to a collection of close-minded, intolerant fundamentalists strikes me as a terrible way to endear oneself to a group that will make up 40% of the votes in the leadership contest.

Mr Parker has certainly never been the front-runner in the leadership race, but his comments will likely have made the road ahead even harder for him.

Cunliffe bows out

David Cunliffe has pulled out of Labour’s leadership race, and in doing so, he’s given Grant Robertson and David Parker a two-fingered salute by way of an endorsement of Andrew Little.

Following The Nation‘s interview with David Shearer over the weekend, Cunliffe’s attempt to regain the leadership had become completely untenable. Shearer’s comments about struggling to get through the working day because he had to support Cunliffe as leader were an epic declaration of war. Shearer was essentially saying that he and other senior Labour MPs could not and would not support Cunliffe if he were re-elected to the leadership. Cunliffe had no choice but to bow out, for the good of the party.

Yesterday, with Parker’s entry into the race, I would have thrown my hands in the air and given up on attempting to pick a front runner. Now, the front-runner is back to being Little. Andrew Little will undoubtedly have the over-whelming union vote, possibly higher than the 70% level of support that Cunliffe reached in last year’s contest. Additionally, Cunliffe’s caucus supporters will undoubtedly pull in behind Little, which, in conjunction with Little’s own supporters, should give him an initial base of around a third of the caucus.

If Robertson and Parker largely split the remaining caucus vote between them, and neither picks up much of the union vote, it’s hard to see how Andrew Little will be anything but ahead in the first round. However, if Little can’t get a majority victory in the first round, things will get interesting. How much of Robertson or Parker’s (whichever drops out first) caucus support will go Little’s way? Does the ABC faction’s distaste for Cunliffe go so far as to a refusal to support whoever he attempts to anoint (ie. Little)? And which way will the membership jump?

Grant Robertson really doesn’t seem to excite much support out in the wider party. But then, it is a little difficult to get excited by career politicians. The problem is that neither Parker nor Little seem to attract much excitement either. They’re solid and intelligent, but hardly charismatic. Andrew Little certainly struggled to shine on The Nation over the weekend, even attracting unfavourable comparisons to David Shearer’s legendary inarticulateness during his time as leader.

Nonetheless, I’ve suggested before that Labour doesn’t necessarily need a wildly charismatic leader if wants to get back into contention by 2017. It needs stability, and it needs a leader that New Zealanders feel they can trust. Cunliffe wasn’t that leader, but either Parker or Little could be. The first task will be mending the breach between MPs and the wider party, and that’s the most fundamental argument against Robertson, in that he was seen as the ABC’s choice to spearhead the fight against Cunliffe.

And now, with nominations closing tomorrow, we wait to see whether David Shearer decides to have another shot, and further complicates the maths…

What effect will Andrew Little have on the leadership race?

In 2013, David Cunliffe won the Labour leadership contest in the first round, winning 51.15% of the total vote. Second preferences weren’t needed. Despite winning just over 32% of the caucus vote, Cunliffe blitzed the field in the membership vote (60.14%) and union vote (70.77%). Grant Robertson came in a distant second, with just short of 33% of the total vote, while Shane Jones limped home in third with almost 16%.

Jones was never a serious contender. It was an ego boost for him, as well as being a form of post-porn redemption. Andrew Little’s candidacy though is a different sort of beast. Whereas Jones was largely despised by the unions (picking up only around 12% of the union vote), Little – as a former EPMU secretary – has serious union street cred. Likewise, where Jones was distrusted by a significant portion of the party membership – seen as a sort of closet National sympathiser – Little has solid left credentials, offset perhaps by a somewhat humourless reputation and an inability to win an electorate seat.

So what does that mean for the leadership race? Firstly, it means that Cunliffe is highly unlikely to hold his 2013 membership and union voting base.  A portion was already likely to have deserted him, thanks to the terrible 2014 election campaign, but that portion is likely to now significantly increase, to Little’s benefit.

The pro-Little effect is likely to most significant in the union vote, which makes up 20% of the total. Little’s former union, the EPMU, is the strongest of the six affiliated unions, making up around 40% of the total union vote. Cunliffe received 71.43% of the EPMU vote last time; this time round, it would be extremely surprising if they didn’t break heavily for Little. That’s just shy of 8% of the total vote already in Little’s camp, largely from Cunliffe’s side of the ledger.

That means that it’s highly unlikely that any of the three candidates are going to win the leadership without going to preferences. So, who’s most likely to drop out first? If it’s Cunliffe or Robertson, you can be sure that most of their supporters’ second preferences would be for Little, as the compromise candidate. That would likely be enough to hand Little the leadership. If Little drops out first though, Robertson will likely be leader.

Let’s play with some (admittedly rough and ready) numbers:

  • At present, it sounds like Cunliffe has the support of about a quarter of the caucus, while Robertson has about half. So let’s use those proportions and give Little the remaining quarter.
  • And let’s assume that Robertson slightly grows his share of the membership vote to 30%, while Little grabs 30% and Cunliffe maintains an edge with 40%.
  • And let’s further assume that the EPMU largely votes Little, while Robertson holds his share of the remaining five unions, and Little and Cunliffe split the remainder about half and half between them. That gives Little about 60% of the total union vote, with Cunliffe on 30% and Robertson on 10%.

All up, that gives both Robertson and Little a total of 34%, while Cunliffe is only marginally behind on 32%. It’s a close race, but Cunliffe would drop out, making Little the likely victor on preferences.

It wouldn’t take much for the result to go in a rather different direction. For instance, if the unions didn’t break quite as heavily for Little, giving him 50% rather than 60%, and that 10% stayed with Cunliffe, suddenly both Cunliffe and Robertson would be sitting together on 34%, while Little would come third on 32%.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say how much Cunliffe’s support amongst the membership and unions has been damaged by the 2014 election campaign. Labour’s former president Mike Williams told National Radio on Monday that the unions had voted overwhelmingly for Cunliffe because they thought he could beat Key. According to Williams, the unions no longer think that.

My pick at this stage? Cunliffe to drop out in round one, with Little triumphing on preferences. Unless of course the picture gets further complicated by David Shearer or David Parker entering, to make the race a four- or five-way… Because then all bets would be off!

 

 

Holding out for a hero

David Cunliffe cannot beat National in 2017. That’s as close to a political certainty as there is. Labour did as poorly as they did this election in part because of Cunliffe. I know too many people who wouldn’t touch Labour with a barge pole while Cunliffe was leader.

Brian Edwards sums up Cunliffe’s problem well:

Perhaps the most widespread criticism you hear of David Cunliffe is that he doesn’t seem sincere, that the things he says seem to lack spontaneity, to sound rehearsed, scripted, to be part of a performance. It’s not just that the Labour Leader’s acting is over the top; it’s that he should be acting at all.

I think there’s some truth to this, to the ‘but’ that lies at the back of so many people’s minds, the ill-defined but nagging doubt as to whether this is a man you can trust or someone you can afford to like. I hear this all the time. On the street. At parties. In discussion with friends. Ask them for the evidence to support their conclusion and you rarely get a clear answer. It’s just an impression, a perception, a feeling. But it may account in part for Labour’s dismal showing in the election. And it may be enough to prevent David Cunliffe ever becoming Prime Minister.

But that’s only the start of it. From even before David Cunliffe was elected leader, everyone knew that most of his colleagues despised him. The term ABC – Anyone But Cunliffe – became a common expression on the evening news. Labour’s MPs may have put their vendettas on hold during the election campaign proper, but the previous year of leaks, backstabbing and continual undermining of Cunliffe had left the public with no illusions that Labour was desperately divided house.

If Cunliffe somehow manages to retain the leadership, the situation will be even worse. Voters will continue to stay away from Labour in droves.

Unfortunately, Grant Robertson doesn’t appear to offer much in terms of mending a broken party. Many in the caucus seem reluctant to get in behind him – they really dislike Cunliffe, but they’re still not sure whether Robertson has what it takes to defeat Key. And a majority of the members seem even less enthused by him, perhaps put off by his career politician, “beltway” background.

Besides, like a drunken fratboy, the Labour leadership contest has gone ugly early. Cunliffe is already damaged goods; by the time the primary campaign is over, Robertson might well be too.

So who else is there? David Shearer? He’s already failed once as leader. His on-camera appearances may have improved, but they’ve been in the context of defined policy areas, rather than the broad big-picture Q&A sessions he’d have to cope with as leader. If he were to revert back to the role of leader, he would once again fail.

Andrew Little? A possibility. If he threw his hat into the ring, he’d certainly command a great deal of support from the unions, and he doesn’t seem disliked by either the caucus or membership. As a contender for Prime Minister though, he’d likely struggle to be seen as anything other than a mouthpiece for the unions.

Stuart Nash or Kelvin Davis? Far too inexperienced, with no real support base yet to speak of. If either of them makes a tilt for the leadership, it will be for the purpose of increasing their profile and gaining a senior role from whoever wins.

Jacinda Ardern? Too young, with no solid form behind her. See my previous post: “The Mystifying Rise of Jacinda Ardern“.

Which leaves David Parker. As Cunliffe and Robertson fight each other to a standstill, Parker would be an ideal candidate to throw his name in at the last minute and cut through the middle. He’s intelligent and articulate, with a solid policy grasp. He was impressive in the finance debates with Bill English during the election. He’s the sort of stable, respectable figure who might just be able to convince the voting public that Labour can again be trusted.

Crazy? Perhaps. But no less crazy than any of the other alternatives…

 

@tarnbabe67 : Cosgrove’s conspiracy theory backfires

Intelligent people occasionally make stupid mistakes. Exhibit A: Karen Price setting up an anonymous Twitter account in order to lambast her husband’s foes. There’s something very unMachiavellian about choosing an “anonymous” Twitter handle that allowed people who knew you to guess your identity…

It wasn’t a smart thing to do, but let’s look at it in context. Convention dictates that as a “political wife”, Karen Price doesn’t get to vent in public about her husband being put through the wringer, especially not when most of those putting him through the wringer are in fact his own colleagues. Twitter provided an ability to vent anonymously, at a time of enormous stress and pressure.

So she got found out. And she’s apologised:

“After a period of intense media attention and scrutiny of our family, I set up and used an anonymous Twitter account over the weekend and made a number of comments that I deeply regret.

“Our family has been under intense media pressure since the election. My actions were ill-judged and were the result of extreme frustration and trying to look after my husband and family.

“David had absolutely no knowledge of the account until a media outlet raised it with him on Tuesday night.

“The account is now closed and I apologise to all those I have offended in any way. I will be taking a short break and will not be commenting further.”

Left there, the whole debacle might have done David Cunliffe some damage. Questions may have been raised about whether Ms Price would survive the pressures of being New Zealand’s First Lady. On the whole though, the general mood seemed to be “Wife sticks up for husband – good on her”.

Unfortunately for Camp Anti-Cunliffe, Clayton Cosgrove had to go on the evening news, pushing a grand conspiracy theory – Karen Price was a pawn in Cunliffe’s game of online chess:

“Let me put it this way. If my partner set up a Twitter account to attack members of the caucus I would know about it.”

It was a vitriolic attempt to smear Cunliffe via his wife, and from the reactions, it’s backfired badly. Cosgrove came across as a thug. And a chauvinist thug at that. Why precisely would he know everything about what his partner does online? How controlling a person is Mr Cosgrove?

If his intention was to further destabilise Cunliffe’s leadership campaign, he’s probably done the exact opposite – inspiring sympathy for Cunliffe via his wife. Women are likely thinking that if they were in Price’s shoes, they’d want to launch a Twitter attack against a past-his-use-by-date arse like Cosgrove. Men are likely thinking that it’s a good thing for one’s wife to have one’s back.

The biggest loser thus far seems to be Cosgrove himself.

The very public evisceration of David Cunliffe

Ordinarily, when the coup of a party leader is underway, one of two things happens. Either the incumbent simply walks, having seen the writing on the wall, or attempts to stare down their opposition in a closed room. Someone walks out of the room as leader, be they the continuing leader or a fresh face, and the party and public is informed of the result.

The Labour Party, in its collective wisdom, now has a very public election process, which is all very well for the candidates with no leadership history to defend. It’s a very different kettle of fish for David Cunliffe, who will now have to defend leading Labour to its worst result in recent history.

If one wins a resounding victory and credits the team (a la John Key), one is deemed a good winner. If one suffers a resounding loss and runs with the ‘blame everyone but oneself’ approach, the plaudits are somewhat fewer. Therein lies the catch for Cunliffe. If he accepts responsibility, as he’s hitherto failed to do, he’s toast. If he tries to apportion blame elsewhere, he risks a resounding backlash.

The backlash has begun. Cunliffe has remarked that some candidates may have been concentrating on the electorate vote, rather than the party vote. He’s had an excruciatingly scathing open letter from Labour’s Ilam candidate, James Macbeth Dann as a result, published at Public Address. Here are some highlights:

I gave my campaign everything, and I am sure that you did the same. We ran a two ticks campaign in Ilam. All our material had “Party Vote Labour” proudly on it. We delivered tens of thousands of pieces of paper with your face on it. But the reality, the hard truth, is that people in the electorate just didn’t connect with you. I lost count of the number of times I door knocked someone who told me they had voted Labour all their life, but wouldn’t vote for us as long as you were leader. People who would have a Labour sign – but not one with your face on it. While those examples are strictly anecdotal, the result on election night isn’t. It’s unavoidable. It’s practically the worst result in the Party’s history.

And:

The Labour Party isn’t a vehicle for you to indulge your fantasy of being Prime Minister. While you might think that it’s your destiny to be the visionary leader of this country, the country has a very different vision – and it doesn’t involve you.

It’s time for a new generation of leadership in the Labour party, one that is closer in both age and understanding with the people it needs to represent. It’s not just time for Grant, but also for people like me. I think I did a good job in a very difficult electorate, and would like to build on it at the next election.

However, I won’t be part of a party that you lead. Not because I don’t like you, but because I simply don’t want to lose again. That’s the reality David. The people of New Zealand don’t want you to be their leader. The comparisons that you and your supporters have thrown up don’t hold water – you aren’t Norm Kirk and you aren’t Helen Clark. You’re David Cunliffe and you led the Labour Party to it’s most devastating result in modern history.

So I’ll promise you this. If you win, I’ll step aside from the party, to let you and your supporters mould it into the party you want. But in return I ask this: if you lose this primary, you resign from parliament. In your time in opposition, we’ve had you on the front bench, where you let down your leader at the most critical point of the 2011 campaign. You ran for leader and lost, then destabilised the elected leader. Then when you got your chance as leader, you led Labour a party that was polling in the mid-30’s to one that sits firmly in the mid-20’s. There is no place for you in this party anymore.

And of course it’s open season in the media, with so much blood in the water. The NZ Herald had an online article entitled “Cunliffe’s candid comments on the leadership”. Except that it doesn’t go by that title anymore. Instead it’s been renamed “13 bizarre things Cunliffe has said in the past 24 hours“. There was no change in the content of the article, but the title is a spectacular shift in slant.

The new acting leader is David Parker, Cunliffe’s former deputy and finance spokesperson. As someone who performed exceptionally well throughout the campaign, he can’t be accused of attempting to undermine Cunliffe’s leadership. He’s been a loyal deputy, despite once being a contender for the leadership. And he too has now rammed the knife into Cunliffe, explicitly stating that he’s lost confidence in him.

When someone like Parker makes it that clear, in such a public fashion, there’s no way back for Cunliffe, even if he somehow wins the members and union vote with such a margin that he scrapes back in as leader. What do you do when your finance spokesperson has publicly stated he has no confidence in you?

Can Grant Robertson beat John Key in 2017? Who knows. Nonetheless, Cunliffe is a corpse, even if he retains the leadership. Perhaps the best thing for Labour would be for Cunliffe to abandon his tilt for the leadership, and for David Parker to reassess his refusal to stand. Parker v Robertson: a battle that could provide positive headlines? Or is it just me?

 

The leadership characteristic that shall not be named

David Cunliffe formally resigns today, setting up a head-to-head battle between him and Grant Robertson, although there’s still a chance that David Shearer, Andrew Little and/or Stuart Nash might throw their hat(s) into the ring.

As the Labour MPs arrived for the resignation caucus, Little refused to rule himself out, instead repeating the line that he needed to wait for the special votes to be counted, to see whether he was even going to be returned to Parliament. Likewise, Nash too was refusing to rule himself out, despite apparently having been told by fellow MPs that he didn’t have the numbers in caucus for either leader or deputy.

The last leadership ballot was largely a genial, gentlemanly sort of event. Cunliffe, Robertson and Shane Jones toured the country, trading wisecracks and generally attempting to prove just how staunchly left-wing they could suddenly be. This time around, the whole enterprise is likely to be a rather murkier affair.

Robertson, on The Nation over the weekend, has already put the boot into Cunliffe, highlighting Cunliffe’s leadership mistakes, while Cunliffe has slapped back, attacking the lack of broad appeal of beltway politicians.

Where things are going to get really nasty though is the issue of Grant Robertson’s sexuality. David Cunliffe’s supporters want Robertson’s sexuality to be an ongoing topic of conversation. The idea is that if enough people are asking whether South Auckland voters will vote for a gay Prime Ministerial candidate, the seeds of doubt amongst the membership will help get Cunliffe over the line.

No one actually wants to come right out and say it though. Yesterday afternoon, on National Radio’s The Panel, everyone could contentedly assert that it wasn’t a problem for them personally, but for others, well, who knows?

The unspoken assumption is that to be New Zealand’s Prime Minister, you must be straight. Here’s Su’a William Sio’s comment (via Laura McQuillan’s Twitter account) as he arrived for Labour’s caucus meeting this morning:

Robertson’s sexuality “never came up” at Mangere LEC but there are “characteristics” that influence leadership support.

And:

Sio warns leadership contenders (ie Robertson) will be under scrutiny from Pasifika voters for “their personal and private characteristics”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out which of Robertson’s “characteristics” Sio and his Mangere electorate committee find so distressing…

Then there’s this reporting by Andrea Vance of “[o]ne community leader, who did not want to be named”:

Robertson’s homosexuality clashed with socially conservative attitudes of voters, who would turn instead to NZ First, he said.

‘‘If Labour want to go from 24 [per cent] to 14 and put NZ First from 10 to 19, that’s the way to go. He won’t unify the party. He will destroy the South Auckland power base, that three Ms [Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa electorates]. It’s not so much Grant, it’s what aligns with their beliefs … it will probably be a tipping point.’’

In the end, few will come right out and say it, “We need the homophobe vote, so Grant Robertson just won’t do”. In fact, just like the unnamed community leader, few will even want their names associated with their own more toned down concerns. Nonetheless, the whispering campaign will continue, Robertson will be asked in every second interview whether his sexuality will make a difference, and he’ll give yet another variant of his answer about how he also likes rugby and beer.

Robertson might also like to point out that West Auckland voters elected and re-elected the openly gay Chris Carter from 1993 to 2008, while Louisa Wall easily held her South Auckland seat of Manurewa.

The Labour leadership meltdown continues

Over the weekend, I road tripped it down to Wellington, where I had a beer with a pollster, briefly checked on what announcement Cunliffe had made mid-Saturday afternoon, and then proceeded to ignore politics. Fine wine and convivial company was far superior… But of course, although one can ignore politics, politics has a habit of keeping on happening.

So Cunliffe resigned. Or he announced that he will resign at the next caucus meeting, which is tomorrow. Although he still wants the job. He’s triggered a leadership ballot, hoping to avoid the death by a thousand cuts of waiting for his colleagues to destroy him, leak by insidious leak.

Unfortunately, there’s no timeframe yet on when the leadership ballot will occur. Will the party wait for its campaign review to be completed before the ballot? Cunliffe will be hoping not – it’s what he resigned in order to avoid. His opponents want a review first, hoping that his leadership gets put through the wringer ahead of a vote. Cunliffe would far prefer a quick vote, to strike while the iron is hot and before the membership lose its collective sympathy for him.

The problem is that waiting for the completion of the review leaves the party in limbo. Once Cunliffe resigns tomorrow, there’s nothing but disfunction. It’ll be week after week of Cunliffe and Robertson twisting the knife on each other.

It’s already begun. On The Nation, there was Grant Robertson happily reminding viewers about Cunliffe’s infamous apology for being a man, his failure to recall policy detail and, of course, like a broken record, that Labour got 24% (never mind that with rounding it should be 25%). Meanwhile, David Cunliffe is busy swiping at “beltway politicians“, a not-so-subtle slap at Robertson.

And it’s not just the leadership contenders reverting to attacking their own party, rather than going for National. Chief Whip Chris Hipkins confirmed to The Nation that he’d placed a ban on MPs speaking about the leadership contest, only to have someone leak an email from Trevor Mallard, which reportedly told Hipkins that he wouldn’t stay silent. Another day, another leak…

In the meantime, National makes hay. John Key certainly seems to be enjoying his role as commentator on Labour Party difficulties. As Stuff reports:

Today, Key said Cunliffe’s announcement was not a move he’d make.

“[I’d] probably not put my name forward again, but that’s entirely a matter for him. Not that he performed badly on the campaign trail, I’m not arguing that.”

The problem was Labour’s system for electing new leaders, which could see the caucus lumped with an unpopular figure, Key said on Breakfast.

“Under our system, it’s the caucus that determines whether you’re the leader. They have a different system, their affiliates vote and the unions and party membership vote, but I really don’t agree with that.

“I think if you can’t carry your caucus, it’s very difficult to be an effective leader and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have the support of his caucus,” Key said.