John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: All aboard the Cunliffe train?

David Cunliffe. Photo / David White
David Cunliffe. Photo / David White

David Cunliffe's new train has left the station. Grant Robertson may be on board in body. But is he in spirit?

This morning's press conference at which Cunliffe announced Robertson would become Opposition Leader of the House rather than his nominee for the far more pivotal role of deputy leader leaves that question hanging very much in the air.

The two men can talk all they like about "mutually agreeing" as to which was job Robertson should do in the best interests of the Labour Party.

But the best interests of the Labour Party would have been better served by Robertson - as the leadership contender who represented the anti-Cunliffe faction in the caucus - burying the hatchet and becoming deputy leader. It was almost his duty to the party to do that.

Either Robertson did not want the deputy's job or Cunliffe did not want him in that position. Both scenarios might have applied.

The upshot is that David Parker, who was scrupulous in not being seen to take sides in the leadership contest, takes on the deputy's role by default.

He will do a good job. But his appointment to that role - once endorsed by the Labour caucus - does not provide Labour with the one thing Labour needs now more than anything - symbolic gestures which demonstrate all the verbiage about a "unified team" and being "100 per cent" behind the new leader actually has some meaning.

This morning's effort did nothing in terms of pouring concrete into Labour's crumbling facade. It instead was another exercise in papering over the cracks.

- NZ Herald

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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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