Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: Cunliffe looks victorious

65 comments
Labour Party MP David Cunliffe. Photo / Natalie Slade
Labour Party MP David Cunliffe. Photo / Natalie Slade

David Cunliffe looks victorious, in more ways than one. In the debate over who should become Labour's new leader, the commentators continue to pick him as the most likely and suitable of the aspiring MPs. The problem is whether Cunliffe is already looking too victorious for his own good.

The latest pundit to back him is Colin Espiner, who says Cunliffe 'is by far their best - probably their only - chance of winning the next election' - see: David Cunliffe is Labour's top dog. Espiner's predicted outcome is 'a leadership ticket of Cunliffe and Robertson'. This is inline with my prediction last week - see: Labour's new Cunliffe-Robertson combo. However, Espiner says he'd prefer to see Jacinda Arden as the deputy. Brian Rudman has also come out today to say, Cunliffe 'job ready' and Labour's obvious choice.

Vernon Small has additional information today that appears to show Robertson's lead ebbs as Labour runoff begins. According to Small, although the caucus support is assumed to be heavily in favour of Robertson, 'the previously solid lead for deputy Grant Robertson among MPs is now uncertain.

Mr Robertson's supporters expect to win about 20 of the 34 MPs in Labour's caucus, with about 11 going to his main rival David Cunliffe... But soundings showed only about 15 were solidly backing Mr Robertson to about 10 for Mr Cunliffe'.

The pressure will continue to be applied to MPs to name their preference, and today The Press reports on where South Island MPs loyalties lie - see Glenn Conway's Robertson the favourite frontrunner with MPs.

To monitor the level of support for Cunliffe, it's worth keeping an eye on David Farrar's constantly updated blogpost designed to keep tabs on Who's supporting who. Farrar's post Labour winners and losers to date is also good and appear to be a fair summary (with only a few minor exceptions).

Cunliffe's wider public support appears formidable, and includes leftwing columnist Chris Trotter, who has tried to define the difference between the two candidates in his column, The Happy Warrior And The Consummate Courtier.

And the Taranaki Daily News says Cunliffe best equipped to take on Key. On the iPredict website, the political betting is currently suggesting that David Cunliffe has a 78% chance of winning while Grant Robertson has a 22% chance. Robertson is, however, seen to have a 33% chance of becoming deputy.

Of course Cunliffe hasn't won yet, and his campaign launch on Monday - while in many ways quite brilliant - has been widely criticised as being too over the top, and confident. Quite simply, he looked too victorious, too early on. In this sense, the best assessment of Cunliffe's leadership launch was John Armstrong's Cunliffe's razzmatazz sets the bar, which was fair but critical.

Harsher verdicts came from Duncan Garner, who says the launch shows that Cunliffe suffers 'messiah syndrome', and Matthew Hooton, who announced that Cunliffe just lost the plot (paywalled). Hooton argues that 'Cunliffe came across as absolutely bonkers', with too much hubris and a total lack of humility.

Similarly, Mike Hosking says: 'It was farcical and gives you a good insight into how he sees himself and his place in politics. He reeks of a grandiose pomposity that most of us don't like, and more importantly wouldn't vote for'.

Hosking appears to favour Robertson, instead: 'Robertson is the more likeable. It doesn't mean he'll be great, but if you look closely he has the potential to be great. He's very articulate, he's affable (a quality not to be underestimated) and he knows his stuff'.

For a very even handed and insightful review of all three campaign launches, see Tim Watkin's Labour leadership: 3 telling & diverse launches. And for some amusing and insightful tweets, see my blogpost, Top tweets on David Cunliffe's candidacy announcement.

But despite some of the mockery of Cunliffe, it's important to note that most commentators see his launch as beating his rivals - see, for example, Vernon Small's First round to Cunliffe.

There's been a lot of internal angst in Labour about the possibility that a stitch-up will be done between the leadership candidates, and there are still signs suggesting that the outcome will be Cunliffe as leader, Robertson as deputy, and Jones as Finance spokesperson. TV3's Tova O'Brien says that although 'All contenders deny backroom deals for votes', 'anyone who thinks there won't be deals in this contest is dreaming' - see: Street admits coup if Shearer didn't leave.

O'Brien also confirms that Maryan Street was working as Robertson's numbers person in the planned coup against David Shearer. So maneuvering behind the scenes is set to play a strong role in the leadership decision.

And any decisions over loyalties and endorsements are highly sensitive, with Newstalk ZB's Katie Bradford-Crozier reporting that Labour MP's expect demotion for backing the wrong leader.

There's also a strong chance that a backroom deal might involve Jacinda Ardern becoming the deputy leader. Currently on iPredict, Ardern is judged to have a 47% chance of becoming the deputy leader.

Today Shane Jones announced that 'Without a doubt the Labour caucus will choose, in my view, a woman to be their deputy and I'll just leave that with them' - see Hamish Rutherford's Labour will have a female deputy - Jones.

Of course, identity politics always play a central role in the modern Labour Party's decisions about personnel, and ethnicity and gender will be factors in the contest. Already there are numerous voices complaining about the lack of a female option - this identity politics argument is put most strongly by Catriona MacLennan in her column, White and male should not be Labour's way forward.

In reply to such arguments, blogger Mark Hubbard suggests that the lack of a woman candidate can be blamed on the women who failed to put their hands up, and that it suggests a degree of hypocrisy on the party of the feminist faction in the party: 'I am also disappointed that after wanting gender quotas just last month, not one Labour woman MP has tried to contest the leadership away from this dreadful man, and save us from him.

Apparently Labour women expect to be given by quota what they don't have the gumption to contest when they have equal footing. There's plenty of capable women Labour MPs, why aren't any of you contesting?' - see: David Cunliffe and the End of the Free World, Again.

But to some in Labour, David Cunliffe is already the identity politics candidate. One influential Labour feminist has blogged to say that she is 'looking for someone who actually recognises that when labour has won the government benches, it's on the back of the women's vote. I'd like to see a leader who has both the courage and the good sense to appeal directly to women' - and she argues that this is Cunliffe not Robertson - see: I'll be voting for David Cunliffe. And, it's telling that Cunliffe has announced that, unlike Shearer as leader, he will not attempt to stop the party from introducing a 'man ban'.

In terms of ethnicity, Cunliffe also appears to be courting the Maori vote in his position on the place of Maori within the party - listen to his Interview on Radio Waatea.

Furthermore, senior party steward Dover Samuels has come out to say that it's time for Labour to ditch 'identity politics' and the 'mana munching exercise amongst these factions' - see Radio Waatea's Samuels decries factional fighting. You can also listen to Samuels' very animated interview with Willie Jackson here: Samuels urges M?ori Labour members to step up.

The concern over demographics doesn't necessarily extend to full geographical diversity, points out rightwing blogger, Ele Ludemann in Labour's abandoned the south. She points out that Labour's 'southernmost meeting is in Dunedin' and argues that 'if Labour had any interest in that part of the country you'd think the leadership meeting would be a good opportunity to garner some interest and reconnect with Southlanders'.

In terms of factions, the affiliated unions are shaping up to be very important players in the contest. David Farrar has analysed the configuration of power in his very good blogpost, How the Labour leadership vote will work. And Vernon Small outlines where the union support is likely to end up - see: Robertson's lead ebbs as Labour runoff begins.

This all makes Andrew Little - formerly of the EPMU - a potentially important player in the outcome, which is why his endorsement will be crucial, and why he might yet end up as deputy leader.

The biggest controversy in the leadership contest so far has turned out to be the fact that the leadership campaign is being subsidised by parliamentary state funding - see Patrick Gower's Labour candidates take advantage of parliamentary perks.

The Labour MPs have defended the use of taxpayer funds for internal party issues on the basis of 'entitlement', with the candidates making statements such as 'We are entitled to exercise our parliamentary air travel' (Shane Jones) or 'This is part of my job as being an MP' (Maryan Street). But as I point out in Dene Mackenzie's ODT article, Taxpayers chip in for Labour road show, the public are less likely to see this use of state resources as legitimate and, if public pressure mounted, I 'would not be surprised if the MPs backed down and paid for their own flights. As soon as one MP paid for his flights, he received an advantage and the others would have to follow'.

However, as Tracy Watkins reports, 'National closed ranks with Labour over the travel perk' reducing the chances of public opprobrium. Nonetheless, there's some strong condemnation of what is seen as a 'rort' - see, for instance, Mike Hosking's Taxpayer picks up tab for Labour leadership race. He says, 'As for Cunliffe, Jones and Robertson claiming they don't set the rules, that's called a technicality where the wiser and more morally acceptable thing to do would be to say the rules clearly weren't designed for this sort of self-serving exercise, so I'll pay for it myself. That would be the right thing to do, but don't hold your breath. Or indeed the party itself, if they wanted to improve their standing, would see it as a party expense and take it out of donations'.

Claire Trevett also draws attention to the 'possibility the MPs could use some of their Parliamentary-funded advertising material, such as brochures, on the campaign. They can not use it for direct electioneering, but the rules are not as tight as in an election campaign' - see: Labour rivals stifle tweets.

For a defence of such practices, see No Right Turn's Parliamentary funding and leadership contests. And for the latest how the MPs have rather quietly but successfully managed to take control of their travel perks, see Anthony Hubbard's investigation into how MPs cling on to a free ride.

There's no doubt that the leadership election is creating great public interest due to its novel approach, and this is praised by Russell Brown in his interesting blogpost, Political Idol, or whatever you want to call it. But how much of the actual meetings will the public be allowed to follow?

Although they're being promoted by Labour as being 'on the hustings', it seems that the media wanting to cover the process are only welcome to attend for the opening speeches of the meetings, making the process somewhat insular. In contrast, in the UK, the Labour Party allows the public access to all parts of proceedings and even has them televised.

The crucial question will therefore be whether party members are allowed to report (tweet, blog, text) from inside these closed sessions, or indeed whether they'll be allowed to talk to journalists afterwards. The whole tightly controlled nature of the process is potentially problematic. Nonetheless, for details of the meetings, see The Standard public announcement, LabourHQ: Election Update 1.

Social media has become a crucial arena for the leadership contest, as reported today by Claire Trevett in Labour rivals stifle tweets, with some over-zealous activists causing problems for the MPs who want a more controlled contest. See also, Tracy Watkins' Leadership race an ugly Twitter spat. Also of great humour, on Twitter there is a 'fourth leadership contender' in the form of a fictional character from the Game of Thrones crossing over into politics - Ned Stark (@NedStark4Leader). For more details, see Rob MacGregor's Ned Stark enters Labour Party leadership race.

The contest is not just on Twitter. On Facebook, Grant Robertson's page, Labour's Future currently has 1194 supporters, and David Cunliffe for Labour leader currently has 1060 supporters.

Martyn Bradbury highlights some of the interesting images from those pages in his blogpost, Grant Robertson vs David Cunliffe in Facebook wars. Also in terms of the Facebook competition, one of the strangest stories has been the duplication of campaign announcements - see Toby Manhire's Robertson and Cunliffe's bizarre show of unity.

How about policy substance in the contest? For a focus on some of the differences between the Labour leadership candidates see Michael Fox's Labour leadership trio set out policies.

Finally, for the more lighthearted - but edgy - coverage of the leadership tussle, see Ben Uffindell's Labour ponders whether country is ready for white, male Prime Minister, watch David Cunliffe's Nomination Announcement - The Opera , which is a brilliant 4-minute video following on from David Shearer's Resignation - The Opera, and see my blogpost, Images of the Labour leadership contest.

- 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.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 12 Jul 2014 03:20:01 Processing Time: 886ms