Grant Robertson

Terrible Labour leadership numbers

Labour now has a new leader – Andrew Little. I’d expected him to win, purely due to union support. Which is basically what ended up happening.

Here’s a round-by-round break-down:

Caucus:

  • Round 1: Robertson – 14, Parker – 7, Mahuta – 6, Little – 5
  • Round 2: Robertson – 14, Little – 11, Parker – 7
  • Round 3: Robertson – 18, Little – 14

Members:

  • Round 1: Robertson – 38%, Little – 26%, Parker – 22%, Mahuta – 14%
  • Round 2: Robertson – 41%, Little – 34%, Parker – 25%
  • Round 3: Robertson – 55%, Little – 45%

Affiliates:

  • Round 1: Little – 64%, Robertson – 19%, Mahuta – 10%, Parker – 7%
  • Round 2: Little – 71%, Robertson 20%, Parker – 9%
  • Round 3: Little – 76%, Robertson – 24%

That means that in the final round, Little beat Grant Roberston by just 1%: 50.5% to 49.5%.

But just look at those round-by-round numbers – they make for terrible reading. For a start, Little comprehensively lost to Robertson in both the caucus and membership votes. Robertson was the most popular candidate in all three rounds for both the caucus and member voters. Andrew Little is now the party leader simply because he’s the former head of the EPMU, and the unions therefore overwhelmingly sided with him.

Little came dead last in the caucus vote in the first round. Just four other MPs (assuming Little voted for himself) thought that Little was the best choice. (It’s certainly a win for the Maori caucus though – all of Nanaia Mahuta’s caucus supporters second-preferenced Little. If just one had gone with Robertson instead, Robertson would have been leader. Andrew Little owes the Maori caucus big-time.)

Robertson maintained a consistent lead of about 10% over Little among the members in each of the three rounds.

Last leadership contest, the members got their way in the face of caucus opposition. That didn’t end well. This time round, neither the caucus nor the members got their way. Instead, the new leader is beholden to the unions.

Can the Labour caucus pull in behind Little? Or will we be in for yet another round of ‘White Ant the Leader’? How long will Labour be allowed to poll in the 20s before the whispering begins?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, National will have a field day, happily painting Little as a union apparatchik, unwanted by the members, unwanted by his own caucus.

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…

 

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.

The Labour numbers game

With a caucus of 32 MPs, David Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order survive a confidence vote. His opponents need twenty votes to force a full leadership ballot. Yesterday, I listed nine MPs who have either publicly refused to express support for him or have – like David Shearer, Stuart Nash and Damien O’Connor – been overtly hostile.

This morning in the NZ Herald, Claire Trevett lists the pro- and anti-Cunliffe factions:

• Camp Cunliffe: David Cunliffe, Iain Lees-Galloway, Nanaia Mahuta, Sue Moroney, Carmel Sepuloni, Su’a William Sio, Louisa Wall.
• Another candidate: Jacinda Ardern, David Clark, Clayton Cosgrove, Clare Curran, Kelvin Davis, Ruth Dyson, Kris Faafoi, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins, Annette King, Andrew Little, Trevor Mallard, Stuart Nash, Damien O’Connor, David Parker, Grant Robertson, David Shearer, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods.
• Unknown: Peeni Henare, Adrian Rurawhe, Jenny Salesa, Meka Whaitiri, Poto Williams.

That’s twenty anti-Cunliffe names right there already, without even the need to put pressure on any of the five ‘unknowns’. Cunliffe has just six supporters (not counting himself), five of whom flanked him at his pre-caucus meeting press conference.

Cunliffe’s opponents presumably therefore have the numbers to force a party-wide leadership ballot any time they like. And as predicted, before they make their move, they’re waiting for the full horror of a campaign review to erode Cunliffe’s support among the members and unions.

The only hope that Cunliffe has of hanging on to his leadership is to resign immediately and force a quick leadership contest. He’d have to hope that the party membership will be sufficiently hacked off about the caucus declaration of war against him that they’ll keep the faith with him. In my view, that’s a slim hope…

Cunliffe supporters are desperately trying to compare the situation to 1996, where Helen Clark lost in New Zealand’s first MMP election, before going on to win power in 1999. There’s no comparison there. Labour may have dropped 6.5% in that election to just 28.2%, but National was just 5.7% ahead, on 33.9% (having dropped 1.2% since 1993). Helen Clark could have formed a government, had Winston Peters jumped in that direction (the direction many had assumed he would go). Labour was well set up to oust National in three years time.

In 2014, however, National is able to govern alone, having received almost 50% of the vote. Labour finds itself 23.4% adrift, and in almost complete internal turmoil.

David Cunliffe is no Helen Clark.

EDIT:

Hmm, I appear to have been led astray by both the One News and 3News political editors, both of whom have been reporting that the anti-Cunliffe campaign requires 60% plus one MP.

However, David Farrar in his post entitled ‘Caucus in Charge‘ says Dann and Gower are wrong, and the ABCs need just 40% to spark a contested ballot. Peter Green confirms this to me on Twitter. That means that Cunliffe needs 21 MPs to survive a confidence vote, which means the ABCs already have the numbers by a huge margin.

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…

Cunliffe gives retirement hint to Beaumont, Fenton and Huo?

With Shane Jones soon to be a political memory, David Cunliffe has done a “mini shuffle” today.

Of the winners, Andrew Little rockets up six places to 11th because of his work “doing the heavy lifting in Justice and Labour”, Phil Twyford picks up transport from Darien Fenton and moves up to 6th with a spot on the front bench, Grant Robertson picks up Shane Jones’ old economic development portfolio, and Trevor Mallard moves from being unranked to 15th.

Maryan Street both wins and loses, dropping four places to 16th, but picking up the tertiary education portfolio.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the “mini shuffle” is Kelvin Davis. He’s still waiting for Mr Jones to actually leave so he can enter Parliament, but he’s been given the number 22 ranking, plus associate roles in regional development, education, police and corrections. That means he leapfrogs Carol Beaumont, Megan Woods, Kris Faafoi, Darien Fenton, Clare Curran, Ruth Dyson, Raymond Huo, Rino Tirikatene, Meka Whaitiri and Poto Williams.

Labour obviously has no intention of accidentally losing Mr Davis for a second time, should the party crash and burn again in September.

So what about those ranked below him? It’s not such an issue for Woods, Tirikatene, Whaitiri and Williams – they’re relatively new MPs with safe seats. Likewise, Faafoi has only been around since 2010 and holds a safe seat.

Claire Curran and Ruth Dyson will certainly be spending a lot of time shoring up support in their electorates, given the relatively marginal nature of their seats, but – for the moment at least – they’ve got electorate seats.

It’s a different story though for Carol Beaumont, Darien Fenton and Raymond Huo. They’re all list MPs, totally reliant on the party vote to get them back in. And they’ve just been told that they aren’t worth as much as Mr Davis, who isn’t yet an MP and who ranked below them last election.

Labour has been copping a fair amount of stick regarding their lack of regeneration. It certainly looks as if Cunliffe is sending a signal to these three list MPs that they might like to re-examine their career plans for the good of the party.