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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Nats have fun with Cunliffe 'conspiracy'

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Labour leader David Shearer (left) with David Cunliffe. Photo / Christine Cornege
Labour leader David Shearer (left) with David Cunliffe. Photo / Christine Cornege

Even Guy Fawkes was not that stupid. Anyone secretly plotting a coup against his or her leader would hardly choose the environs of the MPs-only dining room in the parliamentary complex to count the numbers.

However, politicians are renowned for not always letting the facts get in the way of a good story. And the seeming possibility that David Cunliffe was holding a dinner on Tuesday night for about a dozen of his "disciples" - as National termed them - was more than a good story.

A group of National MPs witnessed the arrival of the "Messiah" in the dining room only for him to then disappear into a side-room "with conspiracy written all over his face". The plot thickened as other, apparently rather lost-looking Labour MPs turned up in Cunliffe's wake. The National contingent generously steered them in the right direction of Cunliffe's whereabouts.

"Labour can't even organise a proper coup without the help of National Party MPs," quipped National's Nick Smith during yesterday's general debate in Parliament.

Pity for National then that the said dinner was in fact held in honour of the visiting Helen Clark - not Cunliffe. Never mind. National MPs had by that stage had enough fun at Labour's expense.

Labour's leadership woes are the gift for National that keeps on giving. But it will only keep on giving for as long as National is careful not to disturb the unhappy equilibrium in the Labour camp which sees David Shearer keeping the leader's job in part because - in the words of National's Jonathan Coleman - Labour MPs cannot install someone in the top job whom they hate.

National's tactic was consequently to praise Shearer as a "decent man", while seeking to isolate Cunliffe from his colleagues by giving him undue attention knowing he would lap it up.

Cunliffe indeed seemed to be enjoying what was happening almost as much as his supposed National adversaries. He beamed like a toothpaste commercial while his colleagues grimaced like the occupants of a dentist's waiting room.

- 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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