Claire Trevett

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

Slip-ups a 'small distraction' to a positive week: Cunliffe

Despite the pillorying he has had after the policy announcements, Cunliffe says he believes the week has overall been a success

Mr Cunliffe is taking the criticism in his stride, saying he 'loves every day' of what he says is 'one of the most exciting jobs I've had the privilege to do'.
Mr Cunliffe is taking the criticism in his stride, saying he 'loves every day' of what he says is 'one of the most exciting jobs I've had the privilege to do'.

It has been a bruising week for Labour leader David Cunliffe, but he has popped out the end of it saying he "loves every day" of what is often called the worst job in politics.

Mr Cunliffe said yesterday that the week of his first major election policy had unfolded "mostly, but not entirely" as he had hoped.

That was a reference to criticism that his State of the Nation speech greatly over exaggerated the scale of Labour's policy for $60 a week for parents with newborn babies by claiming 59,000 would receive it for a full year. As things transpired, about 26,000 of those would only receive it for six months because people on paid parental leave can not claim it.

Mr Cunliffe blamed that on a sloppily worded sentence, rather than any deliberate intent to mislead. He had been given an apology by a member of his team, which he responded to "graciously, I hope". He said none of his staff had been reprimanded and he took full blame for it. He had read the speech and rehearsed it several times before delivering it.

"There are some collective learnings, and I am absolutely undertaking that we will be spot-on in future. I believe in being really straight up with people and if something isn't perfect we will fix it, and we will front it."

Mr Cunliffe was also criticised this week for failing to know the details of another new policy to extend free antenatal classes for all mothers this week. The Labour leader said he had learned not to try to wing it when it came to specific details.

He said although he had learned to double check every detail in the future, the slip-ups and criticism of them was only a "small distraction from what has been overall a very positive week for Labour and a very good news week for New Zealand families".

Both of Mr Cunliffe's predecessors, Phil Goff and David Shearer, had occasionally come unstuck for holes in their knowledge of policies they were announcing. Asked if the job was harder than it appeared from the sidelines, he said it was what he had expected it to be. "I've been around politics a wee while now and I'm fully aware of the demands of the job."

The job of Leader of the Opposition has been described by a string of Mr Cunliffe's predecessors on both sides of the political divide as the worst job in politics. Two months into that very job, Mr Cunliffe begs to differ. "It's one of the most exciting and interesting jobs I've ever had the privilege to do. I love every day. I wake up every day determined to do it the best I can."

Asked what he believes is the worst job in politics, if not Leader of the Opposition, he has retort for his opponents: "Being a Government backbencher after a couple of terms is about the worst job in politics. That's why so many of them are quitting."

Despite the pillorying that Mr Cunliffe has had in the media and by rival politicians, he said he believed the week had overall been a success and he was getting very good feedback on the policies - the same feedback he suspected his opponents were getting, saying that might explain what he described as their over-the-top attacks on him this week.

- NZ Herald

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