Claire Trevett

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

Cunliffe down but not out

Labour MP David Cunliffe is likely to be punished. Photo / Dean Purcell
Labour MP David Cunliffe is likely to be punished. Photo / Dean Purcell

Former allies of Labour MP David Cunliffe have pledged to support Labour leader David Shearer in today's caucus endorsement vote - but have not committed to supporting him in a further confidence vote next February.

Mr Cunliffe yesterday buckled and said he would not mount any immediate challenge to Mr Shearer after refusing to rule it out for the three days of the weekend party conference.

He said he would support Mr Shearer in today's endorsement vote - but would not extend that commitment to a scheduled confidence vote in February, indicating he has not given up all hope of rolling Mr Shearer.

Mr Shearer must get the support of at least 60 per cent of his colleagues in that vote - about 21 MPs.

Mr Cunliffe's change of stance came after it became increasingly clear Mr Shearer had the support needed to survive an early caucus vote he has called for 4pm today.

Mr Cunliffe is expected to be stripped of his front bench seat for disloyalty and some of his allies could also be punished.

Yesterday, Charles Chauvel and Sue Moroney also said they would endorse Mr Shearer at that caucus meeting after refusing to give a position over the weekend. The commitments mean Mr Shearer is likely to be endorsed unanimously, at least until February if other Cunliffe supporters such as Louisa Wall, Moana Mackey, Nanaia Mahuta, Rajen Prasad and Lianne Dalziel follow suit.

Ms Moroney would not extend that endorsement to the vote in February and would not confirm she had previously voted for Mr Cunliffe, but said she was "surprised by the ferocity of attacks" other Labour MPs made against Mr Cunliffe yesterday.

That included comments from chief whip Chris Hipkins and MP Kris Fa'afoi who both said Mr Cunliffe should "put up or shut up" on the leadership, and accused him of openly undermining both Mr Shearer and former leader Phil Goff.

Ms Moroney said the party membership made it clear it expected the caucus to pay more heed to its wishes.

"It is not reasonable to expect an answer of anyone three months out when the party has asked us to consider it in February. Not now - but in February."

Although he had supported Mr Cunliffe last December's leadership contest, Mr Chauvel said he had been loyal to Mr Shearer since.

Shearer loyalists were clearly concerned about the prospect of a future challenge - Mr Hipkins said Mr Cunliffe's antics over the conference were "dishonest and disingenuous" and Mr Cunliffe had actively undermined two leaders in a row - Mr Goff and now Mr Shearer.

Mr Fa'afoi said he hoped today's vote would put the matter to rest. "The last four years have been difficult because I don't think there has been a unified caucus on the whole."

SHEARER'S FUTURE

What: Urgent Labour caucus meeting at 4pm today to vote on David Shearer's leadership.

Why: Mr Shearer is hoping a strong endorsement will put an end to any hopes his rival David Cunliffe has of challenging him.

What next: Mr Shearer still has to face a confidence vote next February - and get the support of at least 21 of the 34 MPs or face a contest in which party members and union affiliates will vote, as well as caucus.

What are the numbers: Today's vote could be unanimous after Mr Cunliffe and his supporters said there was no imminent challenge and they would endorse Mr Shearer. However, next February could be a different story.

- NZ Herald

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