Cunliffe should resign for good of party and nation.
A healthy democracy needs two parties capable of providing good government. New Zealand is well served by National and Labour. It is in the country's interest to see that both of them remain in good heart. At a time such as this, when one of them is suffering recriminations for a severe election loss, the damage to the party can seem worse than it is. Labour received just 24.7 per cent of the vote on Saturday night. If that seems perilously low, it is not as low as National's vote in 2002.
Labour's vote, like National's 12 years ago, was artificially depressed because its rival was doing so well. At both elections there was no mood for change. When this happens, many of the usual supporters of the party out of power do not vote for it. Some do not vote at all, others vote for the party in power, those who want to vote but cannot bring themselves to cross the divide, give their vote to a third party, especially one that might have some influence on the Government.
Winston Peters matched his campaign closely to Labour's this time and undoubtedly his party's result was boosted by straying Labour voters, but it is a soft vote. Labour will get it back as soon as National begins to falter.
In the meantime, there may be not much Labour can do. But it needs to change its leader. The country has had a good look at David Cunliffe during the election campaign and has probably seen enough. He is a strong performer but his feelings seem forced. He did himself no favours with an ungracious election night speech.
Labour's rules now require a party-wide election for the leadership after a general election unless the leader is endorsed by 60 per cent of its MPs. Mr Cunliffe clearly does not expect that endorsement, hence his desire to put his position to a vote of the wider party before Christmas. Grant Robertson, former leader David Shearer and others such as Napier's new MP, Stuart Nash, have responded with a call for the leadership to be part of a thorough review of the party's political strategy.
They are playing for time. There was nothing wrong with Labour's strategy. It went to the election with a well balanced package of policies, some of which addressed existing and looming problems that the Government is reluctant to tackle effectively. It was a sensible, middle-of-the-road programme, generally within reasonable boundaries for an open, competitive economy.
Nor did Labour appear to be pitching its appeal to particular social groups rather than "middle New Zealand", as Mr Shearer complains.
So called identity politics might be Labour's internal thinking but it was not evident in its election campaign. Mr Cunliffe's apology "for being a man" was quickly regretted and nothing like it was repeated.
By proposing a more thorough review of the party's positioning, leading Labour MPs are putting too much at risk. Within the Labour Party there is always an element who want to pull Labour well to the left of today's economic consensus. This is territory now occupied by the Green Party, for whom it is as important as the physical environment, and it did not bring them much more than 10 per cent of the vote on Saturday.
Labour needs to face the question of its leadership, nothing more. If Mr Cunliffe is going to appeal over the heads of his caucus to the membership and affiliated unions who elected him last year, he must imagine he can continue to lead a team that has little confidence in him. This will do Labour no good, as surely its members and unions now see.
It is in the nation's interest that the party finds a new leader quickly.
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