Cun­liffe fight­ing for sur­vival

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

David Cun­liffe has not cho­sen to go qui­etly. After re­sign­ing as Labour leader, Cun­liffe has of­fered him­self as a can­di­date in the contest to elect Labour’s next leader.

Bal­lots will soon be held among the par­lia­men­tary cau­cus, trade union af­fil­i­ates and the wider party mem­ber­ship.

After only one year in the job Cun­liffe ev­i­dently feels – with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – that he should not bear the en­tire blame for Labour’s crush­ing de­feat.

It must be es­pe­cially galling for Cun­liffe that in the name of re­newal, he is be­ing pres­sured to stand aside so that for­mer deputy leader Grant Robert­son can take over the reins.

Ar­guably, Robert­son has been more con­tin­u­ously in­volved since 2011 in shap­ing Labour’s pol­icy con­tent and di­rec­tion than even Cun­liffe. In that re­spect, hand­ing over to Robert­son would re­ward the same se­nior Labour MPs and party man­darins who have been man­ag­ing the party’s strate­gic de­ci­sions since 2011.

Iron­i­cally, the Any­one But Cun­liffe bloc (aka ABC) of MPs may have only them­selves to blame for the loom­ing lead­er­ship contest.

It was be­cause the ABC group thrust David Shearer down ev­ery- one’s throat as leader in 2011 that the party mem­bers and unions re­belled, and cre­ated the cur­rent three-pronged vot­ing sys­tem that Cun­liffe is hop­ing will now de­liver him a fresh man­date.

Iron­i­cally, the Na­tional Party of­fers Cun­liffe re­cent prece­dent for grimly hang­ing on.

Labour scored a dis­mal 24.69 per cent of the vote on elec­tion night. In July 2002, Bill English led the Na­tional Party to an even worse 20.93 % of the vote.

Not only did English refuse to re­sign, he bit­terly fought the coup at­tempt that ul­ti­mately top­pled him by the nar­row­est of mar­gins 15 months later.

What the next vote for the Labour lead­er­ship is all about is se­cur­ing a man­date to lead. Clearly, Cun­liffe is ex­pect­ing to lose the cau­cus vote, while win­ning among the union af­fil­i­ates and wider mem­ber­ship. That faith may be mis­guided.

Al­ready, En­gi­neer­ing, Print­ing and Man­u­fac­tur­ing Union head Bill Newson has ad­vised the me­dia against tak­ing trade union support for Cun­liffe as a given this time around.

A year ago, Cun­liffe was elected as a ‘‘change’’ leader on the ex­pec­ta­tion he would pro­mote Labour as a strong al­ter­na­tive to the cur­rent eco­nomic or­tho­doxy.

In­stead, to pro­mote cau­cus unity he seemed to cave into the ABC pol­icy po­si­tions.

Many who voted for Cun­liffe last time in the belief that he would fight the elec­tion as a strong, tra­di­tional left- wing Labour leader may not do so again.

More to the point, Cun­liffe’s im­age is so tar­nished that he may seem un­electable, in 2017.

There­fore, the wider mem­ber­ship and union af­fil­i­ates may well vote – through grit­ted teeth if need be – for Robert­son, as the best avail­able op­tion for shoring up Labour’s support with the gen­eral pub­lic.

If that hap­pens, Labour would at least avoid the night­mare sce­nario whereby Cun­liffe gets voted back by ev­ery­one ex­cept his own col­leagues.

Amid Labour’s cur­rent gloom, Na­tional is proof that it is pos­si­ble to re­turn tri­umphant from the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

Cun­liffe can even look to Bill English as in­spi­ra­tion, in that a role as a re­spected Fi­nance Min­is­ter in a fu­ture Labour Gov­ern­ment may still be a pos­si­ble ca­reer out­come for him.

On cur­rent signs though, that op­por­tu­nity may not arise dur­ing this decade.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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