Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

David Cunliffe pledges 'total support'

David Shearer (left) and David Cunliffe arrive for the Labour Party leadership meeting at Phoenix Hall.
Photo / Christine Cornege.
David Shearer (left) and David Cunliffe arrive for the Labour Party leadership meeting at Phoenix Hall. Photo / Christine Cornege.

Defeated Labour leadership contender David Cunliffe has pledged his support for victor David Shearer but his running mate Nanaia Mahuta is ruing the loss as a missed opportunity for the party to "break away from the old guard".

Mr Cunliffe was yesterday gracious in defeat after an "open and transparent" leadership contest he maintained had been conducted in excellent humour throughout.

"David's a fine man and he'll be a very good leader and he has my total support."

He and Ms Mahuta, who would have been his deputy had he won, said they were not surprised by yesterday's secret ballot result that also installed Grant Robertson as Mr Shearer's deputy.

"We had consultations with people over the last few hours and I think it was very tight and I think we had a bit of an idea going into there that we might be coming on the wrong side of even," Mr Cunliffe told reporters.

Similarly, Ms Mahuta said she understood she and Mr Cunliffe faced "a big challenge" ahead of yesterday's vote, "because we represented a new and different approach, a break away from old guard thinking, old ways of doing things".

While Mr Shearer is a relative newcomer to politics, his leadership bid was backed by veterans including Phil Goff and Annette King under whose tenure the party faced criticism for neglecting its Maori and Pasifika support base.

But Ms Mahuta, who contested the deputy leader spot even after the result of the leadership contest was known, would not go so far as to say her defeat was a slap in the face for Maori voters.

"The Labour Party understands that we have to tread carefully with our core vote which is our Maori and Pacific constituencies."

Had she and Mr Cunliffe won, their leadership would have given Labour "a new and unique opportunity".

"We would do things differently and reconnect differently as well and reflect views of those constituencies in a very unique way".

She hoped her defeat was not a sign the party was not ready to support Maori leadership.

Mr Cunliffe said he had been heartened by the support he received and felt "an element of personal disappointment" in his defeat yesterday

"In part because I know there have been many people who have supported what Nanaia and I stood for here, and you can't but help feel in some way you've let them down."

Nevertheless, Mr Cunliffe and Ms Mahuta said their defeat did not affect their commitment to serve the new leadership team and their constituents.

Both said they were glad to have contested the leadership, with Mr Cunliffe saying the process of holding a US-style primary contest for the roles had made history in New Zealand and set a precedent for future leadership changes within the party.

Asked if this was likely to prove his only shot at the leadership, Mr Cunliffe said he had "a whole lot of summer barbecues and more than one or two cold beers ahead of me before I even approach that kind of question."

- NZ Herald

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