Two questions ought to be uppermost in the minds of those party members eligible to vote in Labour's forthcoming leadership contest.

First, for all of David Cunliffe's faults, is he still the best option to lead Labour into the 2017 election? Second, is his resorting to a party-wide vote more about rescuing himself from likely political oblivion than him renewing his leadership and its accompanying mandate?

That it is possible to answer "yes" to both questions sums up Labour's quandary. That dilemma has been intensified by the less-than-electrifying appearances on television and radio by his so-far lone challenger, Grant Robertson.

The latter has seemed overly cautious and reluctant to break free from the shackles of obfuscation employed by a politician when answering tricky questions. Robertson has been the model of the "Beltway" Wellington-centric MP - the very label Cunliffe is seeking to pin on him.


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Robertson's response is to cite Labour's dismal 24.7 per cent share of the party vote in last month's election and repeat mantra-like that "something has to change" when he really means "someone must be changed".

Robertson's caution may flow from him selling himself as someone who can unify the deeply troubled party - and is thus ensuring he is careful not to put his foot in it by accident.

But the leadership primary is also about the candidates selling themselves to a far bigger audience beyond the immediate Labour Party. They must prove they are electable.

While Cunliffe is flagging he is going to be no push-over and is not worried by things getting really bitter in coming weeks, Robertson's big advantage is that he can present a comprehensive strategy to breathe life into the Labour cadaver.

If Cunliffe follows suit, he will be asked why he had not already been implementing change while he was leader.

Overlaying everything, however, is the question of what happens if Cunliffe wins back the leadership when he is anathema to many in the Labour caucus. It opens the possibility of someone else coming through the middle as a compromise candidate. Someone like Andrew Little - if the final vote count sees him hanging on to his seat in Parliament. Or David Shearer. Or David Parker. As Labour's caretaker leader, the latter has a golden opportunity to prove himself in coming weeks without the intense pressure and expectation that comes with the leader's job.

Last week Parker said he would not be seeking the leadership. He keeps saying he has not changed his mind.


And he has not - not yet at least.