Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: August 8

Labour Party's David Cunliffe. Photo / NZ Herald
Labour Party's David Cunliffe. Photo / NZ Herald

Labour is once again embroiled in bitter infighting. The question of the party's leadership is being fought over, and the latest shot in the internal battle comes at David Cunliffe's expense in the form of a must-read blog post by Duncan Garner: Why does Labour hate David Cunliffe so much?. Essentially, senior Labour MPs are publicising their hatred for Cunliffe.

Clearly some Labour MPs are still very threatened by failed leadership contender David Cunliffe. They don't have enough political capital to waste on pointless utu, so there must be a reason for the vitriol being directed at him from 'senior MPs'. Garner claims Cunliffe 'is not just disliked - he is actively campaigned against'. Garner is clear that this view is shared by the majority of Labour MPs and it goes all the way to the top: 'Sources have told me Shearer was advised to demote him when he became Labour's leader, but Shearer resisted and said he wanted to work with Cunliffe. That hasn't worked apparently - my sources tell me Shearer is deeply disappointed with Cunliffe and he feels let down. This relationship cannot last.

According to Shearer's sources, the Labour leader no longer trusts Cunliffe'.

The latest poor polling results have clearly ramped up tensions. Being in competition with an increasingly mainstream-friendly Green party means Labour has to fight on two fronts. Relying on National to just bleed votes to them won't be enough. Although the new leadership election rules will give more security to Shearer, he isn't the type to fight tooth and claw to hang on if faced with a serious challenge. As both Clark and Goff found in the depths of their polling woes, not having a credible alternative can be enough to save you.

If Shearer does go (and Garner says not many Labour MPs deny that possibility if the polls don't improve) then the others lining up to succeed him have an interest in Cunliffe being weakened as an option - Grant Robertson in particular. The message may also be to the wider party: don't even think about using your new voting powers to elect Cunliffe - an effective caucus veto on him and any leftwards drift he would represent.

One of Cunliffe's biggest supporters, Chris Trotter, has responded strongly in a blog post today, pleading with Labour's younger MPs to make 'common cause' with Cunliffe - see: Meltdown: Labour's Caucus Rivalries Turn Toxic. Trotter thinks the very existence of the Labour Party is at stake, and to leave the party in the hands of Trevor Mallard and David Shearer would be a disaster. He proposes that Grant Robertson unite with Cunliffe instead of fighting against him, and create the leadership that Shearer is unable to provide.

As a warning to the party about Cunliffe's acceptability, the attacks may work, but if the aim of these attacks was to undermine his credibility it has probably backfired for the MPs involved. Danyl Mclauchlan points out their own credibility is at stake: 'Apparently some of David Cunliffe's colleagues in the Labour caucus feel that their fellow MP is too sneaky, so they've addressed this by anonymously complaining about him to TV3 political editor Duncan Garner while Cunliffe is overseas on holiday with his family' - see: The Long March.

The wider public won't be impressed either say both Scott Yorke (How Not To Win Friends And Attract Voters) and a blogger on The Standard: 'Regardless of what you think of Cunliffe, this kind of pointless and destructive politicing is exactly why people have no faith in Labour as a government in waiting' - see The Standard's Too far. Both the Standard and United Future activist Pete George (see: Labour - if it quacks...) seem to be pointing the finger at Trevor Mallard, but Garner is very clear that attacks on Cunliffe have come from a wide range of Labour MPs.

The fear that Cunliffe will have more support in the wider party is probably justified if Shearer continues the themes he used yesterday to a Greypower audience - attacking sickness beneficiary bludgers. Robert Winter thinks such a strategy is a mistake: 'It looks to be an example of Mr Shearer "trimming" the message from the top, without much thought about how the party membership will take it. Moreover, it allows the Right to talk of the lack of difference between Labour and National, which in turn establishes for many National's control of the political agenda' - see: A Messy and Disappointing Day for Labour (http://bit.ly/ONRqgH). David Farrar is right on cue: 'Almost sounds like a speech from a National MP' (Shearer on welfare), as is Cathy Odgers: 'Most telling was the opening, just how Roger Douglas or Richard Prebble used to start one, with a narrative about bludgers to grab the attention of the audience' - see: Labour and Nostalgia Tours. Shearer's full speech can be read here: Speech to Grey Power.

Shearer does seem obsessed with rural and provincial New Zealand, announcing yet another regional tour - see Claire Trevett's Shearer to make big push for rural vote. There are a few issues Shearer may be wanting to avoid on the tour, such as his position on exemptions from the lobbying disclosure bill - see David Farrar's Shearer on the union exemption. Same-sex marriage may be another, with Labour MP Sua William Sio wanting the bill withdrawn saying it will hurt Labour's Pacifica support. But a recent poll shows deep and widespread support for marriage equality across the country - see David Farrar's Poll breakdown on same sex marriage. The legendary political influence of South Auckland Pacifica pastors may well be overstated. But, nonetheless, the gay marriage issue has, according to Patrick Gower, 'started to tear the Labour Party to pieces' - see his insightful blog post, Labour breaking up over same-sex marriage.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* John Key seems to fallen into the same trap as Labour. Not content with being at war with the Taliban, he has attacked New Zealand's neighbouring allies in Afghanistan - see Isaac Davison's Hungarians hurt by 'snide' Key dig at troops.

* Coming to a website near you - National Standards. Reports will be accessible through the Government's 'Education Counts' website - see: Govt unveils school 'league tables' plan.

* All parties support the plans to expand the war memorial for the Gallipoli centenary but the Greens are not impressed by the fast tracking methods to be used - see RNZ's Plans unveiled for National War Memorial Park. Brownlee has attacked the Greens, but they have a valid point that the fast tracking is only needed because the Government has changed its mind twice over the project.

* Judith Collins should get on with the ACC job rather than waste time on witch-hunts says Fran O'Sullivan - see: Leak probe becoming sideshow to real issues.

* The ninjas strike again! Once again police are under fire for exaggerating potential threats and grossly over-reacting with the use of armed force - see: David Fisher's Dotcom danger claims wavering.

* Were your bacon and eggs tasty? Don't complain about whaling then, says Bob Jones (unless you are a krill) - see: Anti-whaling outcry simply sizeism.

* The Ombudsman's office has confirmed that you can now use Twitter and Facebook to make requests to Government under the Official Information Act - see Toby Manhire's Ombudsman issues guide for Official Information requests via Twitter and Facebook.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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