Election 2011: Goff gone? Candidates set for leadership fight

By Jonathan Milne, Claire Trevett, Cherie Howie

Phil Goff has made a decision about his future but will not announce it until he has spoken to the caucus on Tuesday. Photo / Getty Images
Phil Goff has made a decision about his future but will not announce it until he has spoken to the caucus on Tuesday. Photo / Getty Images

Support for Labour leader Phil Goff appeared to be falling away last night even as he signalled a possible resignation amid news of a seriously low vote for the party.

There were signs of movement around the leadership even as Goff addressed the 150 Labour faithful at the Mt Roskill War Memorial Hall in his Auckland electorate.

"Thank you to all those New Zealanders who kept the faith," he said, expressing sorrow over those who had lost their seats. "It might not be our time this time - but our time will come again," he said.

"We're a bit bloodied but we're not defeated. We're not defeated because what we are fighting for is a fairer New Zealand."

Goff signalled a possible resignation, saying he had made a decision about his future but would not announce it until he had spoken to the caucus on Tuesday.

The mood was sombre. Labour's vote fell below its expected level to about 26 per cent - down from the 34 per cent it won in 2008.

Party insiders revealed last night alliances were forming inside the Labour caucus - David Cunliffe with Lianne Dalziel as deputy versus David Parker with Grant Robertson as deputy.

As Cunliffe waited for Goff to arrive at the hall, he refused to say if his leader would have his support today.

"I think Phil is a very good guy and he's a really valued caucus colleague but I'm not going into any broader issues tonight."

Asked if he expected Goff to resign he said he did not know what was in his leader's mind.

"That's a matter for Phil and no doubt there will be some thinking he will do but I'm not going there tonight."

Cunliffe said the result for Labour was clearly not what it had wanted: "It's a result that gives us quite a lot to think about. I'm sure the caucus will want to reflect on it."

Parker also refused to say if he would back Goff staying on as leader. He said he was "bloody proud" of Goff for the campaign he had run. He said it was up to Goff whether he resigned or not "but I certainly won't be demanding it".

"I want to reflect on what's happened and I want to give Phil the dignity he deserves."

Parker said he did not believe the night would be a "rout". "I call a rout what happened in 2002 when National got 21 per cent in the polls."

He said the minor parties had clearly risen at Labour's expense. "People haven't yet come home to Labour. They will eventually."

The new Labour caucus would meet on Tuesday. There would be some wide-eyed and awestruck newbies, but the likes of former party president Andrew Little and former adviser Deborah Mahuta-Coyle were already familiar with the machinations of party politics.

What was clear was senior Labour figures were ready to start planning for the party's future.

This weekend, even before the polls opened, former long-serving Labour Party general secretary Mike Smith began laying out his vision on a blog - "It's time for a new generation leading Labour in my view". He then cited Labour campaign manager Robertson's strategic brain and communication skills.

Yesterday, he told the Herald on Sunday Labour had established a strong policy platform for the next three years. It now needed wholesale generational change in its front bench.

Smith, described by some as a kaumatua of the Labour Party, effectively dismissed those leadership contenders without deep Labour Party history, like Shane Jones and David Shearer.

"Of all the Labour leaders I've worked with, Helen Clark stands out head and shoulders above them all," Smith said. "And that's because she was very grounded in the party organisation. She knew people inside and outside. The better their grounding the more likely they will be effective leaders."

The "new generation" was led by Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins, all young first-term MPs but with long years working in Labour.

- Herald on Sunday

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