What the public wanted to hear from Labour in the wake of the party's worst election result in nearly a century was some honesty and self-criticism for its now dreadful predicament.

It got it the morning after. But not for David Cunliffe. It got it from his predecessor, David Shearer.

That in itself tells you an awful lot about the state of Labour.

That Cunliffe was still in a state of shock after Labour's drubbing was hardly surprising.

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Rejection by the public on such a massive scale as handed to the Labour leader on Saturday night is hard to take - especially for someone with such unrestrained ambition and who has otherwise enjoyed much personal success in life.

But Cunliffe has completely misread the public mood. What the public wanted to hear from him was a large measure of mea culpa. What it got was Cunliffe blaming everyone but himself.

Labour - he moaned - had been shut out of airtime during the election campaign by Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics. It had been shut out of airtime by Kim Dotcom.

That is true. But those factors were only a minor reason for Labour's failure to even get off the starting blocks.

Having claimed that the economy was going to hell in a hand-cart, Cunliffe is now also claiming victory for Labour was impossible given the buoyant economy. He cannot have it both ways.

It was only after expressing those caveats that Cunliffe was willing to take "my share" of responsibility.

But the factors which are to blame for Labour's humiliation have nothing to do with Dotcom, Hager or the state of the economy.

Moreover they have been crippling the party for far longer.

David Shearer needed no prompting in citing Labour's self-destructive transition from being a broad-based party of the mainstream to a grouping of extremely narrow interests as the underlying reason for Labour's "tragic" result.

What has been happening in Labour is that ideological purists have sought to drive Labour so far left it has become unelectable.

Shearer revealed that as leader, he had spent more time fighting Labour's factions than John Key.

Cunliffe is now talking of "modernising" the party. That might be read as code for saying he will be tackling the left and restraining its influence.

His problem is that the left put him where he is. It was a pact with the devil which Cunliffe now seeks to tear up - but which in doing so may well destroy his leadership.

The irony is that the changes to Labour's constitution which Cunliffe exploited to undermine Shearer's leadership have come back to haunt the current leader.

Under party rules, the leader must be re-endorsed by the Labour caucus within three months after an election. Unless the leader gets 60 per cent support plus one vote, the leadership goes to a party-wide vote.

If Cunliffe loses the caucus vote however, he will be destroyed in the public's mind.

Fighting a party-wide vote would be seen as nothing more than him trying to save his own neck rather than acting in the party's best interests.

Cunliffe now has to bring forward the caucus vote, otherwise Labour will simply drift.
If he loses that vote - as he may well - then he should pull out of a party-wide vote.

To do otherwise risks Labour pulling itself apart.

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