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Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Labour's rattled leader vows to stay on message

Cunliffe admits distractions hurting Labour’s election campaign.

David Cunliffe delivering his 'sorry for being a man' apology.
David Cunliffe delivering his 'sorry for being a man' apology.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has acknowledged his "I'm sorry I'm a man" comment to a domestic violence meeting was a misjudgment.

He has even distanced himself from his favourite red scarf as he moves to put his party - and himself - on to a more focused and disciplined footing.

Mr Cunliffe returned to Parliament to yet another round of speculation about his performance after a two-week recess and a string of successive polls putting Labour's support in the low to mid-20s.

He said he took some of the blame for the polling and had promised caucus he would try to stay on message and avoid repeats of distractions such as his apology for being a man - something some in caucus believed had unnecessarily damaged the party as its support among men fell.

In the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey only 9 per cent of respondents said Mr Cunliffe's apology for being a man at the domestic violence conference was a good thing to say.

But more people believed it was simply an unusual way to make a point rather than a serious lapse of judgment.

Forty-two per cent said it was a silly thing to say and showed poor judgment while 45 per cent said it was an unusual way to make a point about domestic violence.

Women had a slightly dimmer view than men - 44 per cent thought it showed bad judgment compared with 40 per cent of men.

Mr Cunliffe said it been an "unhelpful" distraction. "I accept the way that was quoted out of context and bounced was unhelpful and I am determined that I will be extremely careful about the way I put things going forward."

The Labour leader also said he would have reconsidered taking a holiday in the recess if he had known how bad the polls were. His red scarf would get fewer outings after comments were made about the regularity with which he wore it.

"I, like everybody else, need to stick closely to the core issues and I will be extremely careful about those little things, such as the scarf, that can become distractions."

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He also had to ward off renewed speculation about his leadership after those polls - Labour sources said there had been some discussions last week about what options the party had and it is understood some Labour MPs quietly sounded out David Parker about the role.

However, all those concerned reached the conclusion it was too late to change and decided to stick with Mr Cunliffe through to the election.

Mr Parker told the Herald he had no intention of mounting a challenge and did not want to be leader.

One MP said caucus was "despondent" given the polling and it was natural for that to start speculation.

Others dismissed rumours that Mr Parker or former leader David Shearer had the numbers as coming from Labour's political opponents to "incite disunity".

However, Mr Cunliffe will face a confidence vote after the election and many in caucus are weighing up which MP might be able to get sufficient support among the members and unions to take the role if Mr Cunliffe does contest it again and Labour is still in Opposition.

Key's suspect denies Cunliffe attack

Labour's Napier candidate, Stuart Nash, denies being behind an anonymous tirade against Labour leader David Cunliffe for going on holiday after being suggested as the source by Prime Minister John Key.

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Mr Cunliffe took a break to go skiing in Queenstown last week, and an anonymous Labour source was quoted in the Sunday Star-Times criticising him in strong language for taking the break when Labour was so far behind in the polls.

Responding to Mr Cunliffe's questions on regional development in Parliament yesterday, Mr Key referred to Northland and Napier - "they are the places Labour candidates have been talking to the Sunday Star-Times about the leader" - a reference to Mr Nash and Te Tai Tokerau candidate Kelvin Davis, who recently broke ranks with Labour to support the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension.

Mr Davis denied it was him, and Mr Nash said some people were blaming him but he was not involved. "I have been accused by a lot of people. I told them it wasn't me. I've got a right royal battle on my hands in Napier, my focus is on that."

Mr Cunliffe had not contacted him. "I think David's got his own campaign to worry about."

- NZ Herald

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