John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Time for olive branches in Labour caucus

The three candidates for the Labour Leadership Grant Robertson, left, Shane Jones and David Cunliffe.
The three candidates for the Labour Leadership Grant Robertson, left, Shane Jones and David Cunliffe.

In the end it wasn't as close as some in Labour thought (and feared) it would be. And for that the party should give much thanks.

David Cunliffe has not only won the battle for the Labour leadership. He has won it convincingly. That is important because a narrow victory for Cunliffe would have raised questions about the strength of his mandate, especially with the overwhelming majority of the caucus backing either Grant Robertson or Shane Jones.

As it turned out a chunk of Robertson's support in the caucus melted away, while Jones did better in attracting support from colleagues than expected.

The majority of the caucus might not like Cunliffe because of past failings. He is now in a position to make amends.

A narrow victory for Robertson would have left the wider party disgruntled.

That would have been the worst outcome.

For the wider party, including the memberships of affiliated trade unions, has spoken - and in no uncertain terms.

The strength of the support for Cunliffe among the rank-and-file suggests two things: first, that Cunliffe was seen head-and-shoulders as the contender with the best chance of returning Labour to power at next year's election, and, second, that the membership wants the parliamentary party to produce clearly-defined policies that sit comfortably within the Labour tradition. In other words, no more wishy-washy Labour.

The strength of that support from rank-and-file members may put some pressure on Cunliffe to shift Labour more to the left than he might want.

The most pressing task, however, is to unify the caucus. That means Cunliffe not overly rewarding his backers with plum jobs or trying to run the caucus with a tight clique of true believers. It means reaching out to those MPs who did not back him.

It also requires recognition by those MPs that Cunliffe has been given a massive mandate - and with that comes change which will not suit everybody.

In short, it is now time for olive branches in bulk quantity inside the caucus.

- 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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