Labour Party leader Phil Goff is downplaying a stoush between his Party President Andrew Little and longstanding MP George Hawkins as a 'personality clash' rather than reflecting a wider factional battle in the party.

Mr Goff yesterday made it clear he was unhappy with Mr Little for his statements that Mr Hawkins was a "lightweight" with a "sense of entitlement" who had clung onto his safe seat for too long.

Mr Little's comments were prompted by Mr Hawkins' criticism of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union following the Manurewa byelection. Mr Hawkins had earlier threatened to resign and force a byelection if EMPU organiser Jerome Mika won the selection, which Louisa Wall won on Sunday. Mr Little is also the national secretary of the EPMU and although he stood aside from the selection, Mr Hawkins had objected to what he saw as
the EPMU exercising its muscle by parachuting its own people into Parliament.

Yesterday Mr Goff said he had spoken to Mr Little who had made a "mistake" he now regretted.

Mr Goff repeatedly avoided questions about a wider factional split within Labour, other than giving a curt denial, saying instead that the stoush was a "personality clash" prompted by the passion of the selection process.

He said both Mr Hawkins and Mr Little did agree that the winner of the Manurewa selection, Louisa Wall, was a strong candidate with local endorsement.

Yesterday Mr Hawkins responded to Mr Little's comments with his own variation of former finance minister Michael Cullen's famous "we won, you lost, eat that" quote to National:

"My local people won, he lost, and he ought to get used to it. But I'm such a sporting character, I'll go up to New Plymouth next year several times to help him."

Mr Little is Labour's candidate in the marginal New Plymouth electorate for the election next year.

Yesterday Mr Little would not say if he would apologise to Mr Hawkins for the comments or regretted them, saying any such discussions were a matter between himself, Mr Hawkins and the party leadership.

He did not wish to revisit the issue and was focussing on supporting Ms Wall.

"And I wish George well in his retirement."

Told of Mr Hawkins' offer to help on his campaign, he said Mr Hawkins would be "most welcome."

"There will be plenty of work for him to do and he would be embraced as a friend and colleague."

Of about 11 Labour MPs who have previously worked for unions, only one - Lynne Pillay - is from the EPMU and she is retiring next year. It is the most powerful of the unions affiliated with Labour. At least three were from the Service and Food Workers' Union. Mr Little said the union had never actively recruited its officials to stand for Parliament, although in the past some personally chose to stand. He stood aside from any selection involving EPMU
staff because of his joint role.

Mr Goff said the evidence did not support any claim that the EPMU had too strong a hold on the party. He said candidates were selected on suitability, regardless of who supported them.