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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Cunliffe's resignation may be in order

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David Cunliffe. Photo / APN
David Cunliffe. Photo / APN

David Cunliffe is in deep political trouble. So deep that his resignation as Labour's leader may now be very much in order.

It now emerges that - contrary to the point-blank denials that Cunliffe gave to a press conference only yesterday - that he did assist controversial businessman Donghua Liu in the latter's application for New Zealand residency.

At a minimum, the revelation that Cunliffe wrote a letter to immigration officials seeking information on progress regarding the residency application is a massive blow to the Labour leader's personal credibility. How can anyone have any confidence in what he says from here on?

Cunliffe may argue that the letter was about immigration processes and written on a constituent's behalf - something MPs frequently do - and therefore was not an endorsement of the application.

But that does not wash. Either deliberately or through a lapse of memory, Cunliffe has been economical with the truth.

He has called for National Party ministers' heads to roll for the equivalent or less. Having set the standard required of others, it is incumbent on him to himself follow suit.

The self-ravaging of his credibility means Labour now has to abandon its strategy of trying to paint John Key and National as corrupt. To carry on in that fashion would be the height of hypocrisy.

But the bigger question now is whether Cunliffe can lead Labour into the coming election campaign with this albatross reeking around his neck.

Unless Cunliffe can come up with a very good explanation, the answer has to be 'no'. After all Cunliffe is not just trying to win the election, he is also auditioning for the job of Prime Minister. And on that score, today's events qualify as a fail - and by a wide margin.

The only relatively good news for his colleagues - if you can call it good news - is that under Labour Party rules dealing with emergency situations close to an election, the ballot on a replacement is likely to be restricted to the parliamentary wing rather than also taking in the wider party membership and affiliated trade unions.

Labour cannot afford spending a month consumed with choosing another leader - the length of time that would be needed for a party-wide vote on a successor.

But - with Labour already staring down the barrel of defeat for the third election in a row - who in their right mind would want the job now?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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