Why Cunliffe ain’t for turning

David Cunliffe launches his Labour leadership campaign. New Lynn, Auckland, August 26, 2013. Image Greg Presland.

This is Jessica Williams, she is the RadioLIVE Political Editor. Her blog on Radio Live is a stock standard narrative being pushed by pundits that David Cunliffe’s recent road to the left is nothing more than clever posturing by Cunliffe and that if he wins he will quickly reassert himself back to the center, no need to get excited by promises of actual left wing politics being espoused.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Now while it certainly is a truism that Primaries see candidates singing to the converted, there are a number of unique features of Cunliffe’s win that mean his left wing direction is strategically far more serious than pretense.

The first thing is that Cunliffe has the ABCs to deal with. If Cunliffe doesn’t win the 2014 election, they will knife him. That so many ware prepared to vote against the majority wishes of their affiliates and members suggests a tribalism of warped proportions. The only weapon against that type of mindset is the cudgel of success. Cunliffe must win 2014, or else. That pressure means it’s an election campaign starting Tuesday.

That threat also means Cunliffe must study and contemplate every possible strategy to win which means he’s going to need to step outside the box.

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Cunliffe identifies the reason many previous Labour voters didn’t vote Labour is because Labour isn’t actually offering a left wing economic alternative to the failed free market Milton Friedman dogma. Cynics will claim the 800 000 NZers who were enrolled but who decided not to vote in the last election really want a centrist Government. If that were true, why didn’t those 800 000 voters vote for Key or United Future?

They didn’t vote because beyond Helen Clark’s decade long cautious management within the 2 party mutually agreed free market paradigm, Labour didn’t actually stand for much more than a paler shade of blue.

With inequality soaring and 800 000 NZers living in poverty, the hegemonic structure is the problem. NZers want to hear what Government can do for them, not what it can’t and the vast numbers Cunliffe gained from the Unions and the membership gives him a clear mandate to articulate a political vision that is authentically left wing.

Those who didn’t vote want an actual alternative to Key, not just a less odious version. With that level of expectation and no life line beyond a win in 2014, Cunliffe has no option but to put his best left foot forward.

70% of National Party voters don’t know someone unemployed, appealing to them for social justice to an inequality that is invisible to their experience is like trying to sell Eskimos on the need for ice makers.

The need to win in 2014 also forces Cunliffe as a leader to consider what are the best tactics for defeating National and its allies using MMP. Labour need to sit down with the Greens and MANA to look at seeing where both could mutually work together instead of against each other in certain electorates.

The Greens strength shouldn’t be seen as a threat, it should be seen as a strength and if the level of co-operation necessary to function in Government is going to work, some give and take from both Labour & the Greens when looking at which electorates they could work together in would be a trust building exercise.

Cunliffe also has the pressure of the right wing going mental at him and that fear mongering amplified by the corporate media. Even if Cunliffe is tepid in an unconvincing way to the electorate by gingerly stepping to the left, the msm are going to portray him as the living embodiment of Marx. There’s no fear going left because the forces against him are going to attack him regardless, so he best make it count by making it authentic.

The manner in which TV3 news and ZB and the Wellington Press Gallery have behaved highlights the need for Labour to talk directly to their supporters via social media rather than rely on Patrick, Guyon and Duncan’s brand of Old Spice bromance bloke-o-vision.

Eliminating National’s possible coalition partners while attracting the 2011 none voters with left wing policy passionately argued are the goals for Cunliffe if he is to win 2014 and have a political life beyond 2015.

Tomorrow – Cunliffe’s first 100 days.


  1. What makes me crack up is all these tory scum proclaiming

    * He’s going to drag Labour to the LEFT squawk squawk .

    The world is going to end

    They all running round like Henny fucking Penny

    Serious clowns, Cunliffe is on the way you fools

  2. Indeed . I’m watching so keenly and so hopefully that I almost forget to breath . The only thing David Cunliffe has to do is be straight up . 800,000 voters have had enough of liars , swindlers , carpet baggers , panhandlers , bullies , dopes and thugs . The other voters , the people who did manage to dredge up the courage to take a punt did just that . They took a gamble that the greedy shysters they were about to vote for would somehow and miraculously do the right thing by them . It was like trusting the pervert in the nudist colony to keep his hands to himself during a game of blind mans bluff .

    The problem with being ‘ straight up ‘ now of course , after all this time , is the horrible worms that will come wriggling up out of that terrible can .

    And TV3 ? For fucks sake . If you’re going to have Cameron Slater bubbling his toxins like a zombie death fart , put a bag over his head . He’s just too much while eating breakfast . He has exactly the same complexion as a pan fried mushroom .

    • You mention Slater and the JK depression ad appears – mmmmm. I’m over TV3, yeah they got John Campbell but the rest of them are awful. It’s either Maori television for depth and analysis or watch media on line – only option really.

      I’m not holding my breath on Cunliffe, it will be wait and see. As Labour have a long history of stabbing working people in the back. That said, I’m glad he won. Funny how no one mentioned Harry Holland during campaign – just made me worry, but happy to be proven wrong – at this point a Peter Fraser clone would be better than zombie economic darlings.

  3. The other thing DC will have to be aware of is to never be caught out in a lie or be unprepared for any allegation of indiscretion . However, he is the consumate politician with experience on the front bench so this should not be so much of an issue. I believe he is an honest man with a genuine desire for a better NZ but we all know allegations of impropriety are the MSM’s bread and butter when it comes to the left or what they percieve as the left.

    While Key, Joyce and co can tell porkies to ram home policy, Labour will never have that weapon either in opposition or as government. Creating a conglomerate of social media fronts on a scale not seen in this country yet would blunt MSM influence somewhat. But being squeaky clean and honest is the ultimate shield against the MSM

  4. Before we get too excited, lets not forget that Mr. Cunliffe does have a history supporting neoliberal ideas & regimes. He worked for Boston Consulting Group, for example, a company that has an excellent reputation representing the interests of corporate America and other global corporations. BCG at the current moment have been advising the Tory Governor of Pennsylvania on how to dismantle the Philadelphia public school system and replace it with private Charter schools. I’m willing to give Cunliffe the benefit of the doubt for now but I am watching with a suspicious eye.

    • Indeed! People in this country cant see past the simple political dichotomy that is National and Labour. Power corrupts. It corrupted Clark and with her, all of the A, B, ,C, D, Etc. So much so that by her third term there was virtually no trace of the left-wing ideology that she had once possessed. Her stance on the Maori claim to the seashore and sea bed was not unlike National’s stance on the Maori claim to water rights. As head of the SIS, she would have ordered the illegal surveillance in the Urawera which was eventually carried on by Key. In my opinion, Cunliffe will be no different over time. He’ll be turned.

  5. One of the unintended consequences of working for BCG is that he can recognise their way of working. Their logic is clear, rationale and relentless, it is just that their purpose of corporatisation of public assets is best, is mad, and dangerous. The counter has to be a clear articulated vision of NZ as a functioning social Democracy, that is fair to all people. Norway as a model rather than US.

  6. I’m gonna keep a jaundiced eye from a distance n see what does happen. I would actually be happier if Cunliffe’s caucus vote had been a bit lower.
    The fact it wasn’t may just be rats scuttling across to the sturdiest life boat or, it may be a result of some compromises from the Cunliffe camp, because I cannot think of a more efficient system of selecting the paid liars, mercenaries and sociopaths out from the the rest of us than modern ‘democracy’ put in practise.

    I have suspended disbelief on Cunliffe chiefly because if it is just a game it is a very long one. As a minister in the last term of the Clark government Cunliffe was the only one unafraid to regulate to ensure equity.
    So in the “its not what you say its what you do”, sniff test for sorting out neo-libs, Cunliffe passed when no others did, however he is a politician & so by definition cannot be trusted – ever.
    Sorry but that is how it is with any pollie.

    The other issue is the time this is all taking. During the month this exercise has been running the Nats have slipped a lot through with bugger all being said.
    Cunliffe has to get his caucus sorted yes, but he also needs to hit the ground running like today by having a go at Key & Joyce over the latest shonky ‘lets rip the mugs’ scam – the copper pricing burn.
    Joyce has just been implicated in blackmailing Vodafone & 2 degrees to stay on the sideline.
    I call that price fixing & market manipulation to the detriment of smaller players & the Labour Party needs to strike that while the iron is hot, not piss around playing still more politics. It is ordinary kiwis who pay every time the market cartels jack prices like this.

    So Cunliffe needs to be generating pushback on this as well as ‘cementing his place in the pantheon of labour leaders’ or whatever.

  7. Eskimos? Did you miss the racist names 101 class? (para 9)

    On another note, feeling optimistic that this is the beginning of the weakening of the strangle hold of the right on the nation.

  8. “The manner in which TV3 news and ZB and the Wellington Press Gallery have behaved highlights the need for Labour to talk directly to their supporters via social media rather than rely on Patrick, Guyon and Duncan’s brand of Old Spice bromance bloke-o-vision.”

    Martyn, you are a scholar and the best kind of gentleman. Keep up the brilliant work!

  9. The belief held by the msm that Cunliffe will return to the right is of course possible but definitely not a certainty- being raised in Britain I witnessed the move of Tony Benn leftwards as his career progressed and while he was accused of many trhings, I don’t recall hypocrisy being one of them. So hopefully Cunliffe will remember driving lessons and KEEP TO THE LEFT

  10. […] Cabinet, now before I start, I need to explain that I’m viewing this through the lens of my theory that Cunliffe has to win the 2014 election or the ABCs who voted in such overwhelming numb…. So Cunliffe must win and to win he has to take risks and think outside the square, otherwise he […]

  11. “70% of National Party voters don’t know someone unemployed, appealing to them for social justice to an inequality that is invisible to their experience is like trying to sell Eskimos on the need for ice makers.”

    Thanks for pointing the above out to us, Martyn, and thanks for your valued analysis and explanations as to why you think that David Cunliffe will not back off from comments and statements he made in speeches over recent weeks – and before that.

    As much as I can share your views to a degree, there remain some major concerns I and others have for the future Labour policies under their new leader David Cunliffe. We had assurances before, about a return to the roots of Labour, even by Phil Goff and David Shearer. The latter surprised and offended us with his speech containing a reference to a “sickness beneficiary roof-painter”, and how some beneficiaries were not pulling their weight and thus ripping the system off. It seemed to be following “dog whistle politics”. Neither Goff nor Shearer did convince as being the hoped for change-bringers.

    Now much hope is placed in David Cunliffe. But he will certainly face major challenges, and he will be confronted by the key stakeholders and lobbyists in the NZ economy and society, including big and small business, the finance sector, the banking sector, the real estate sector, the various employer groups, the farming lobby, the mining and oil industries, and within Labour even the social conservatives.

    While I can see a new direction in economics, certainly in Labour reversing labour laws, there is not yet sufficient clarity on environmental and especially social policies.

    During the leadership contest some asked the contenders, including David, re the future social policy direction. Those questions were not answered at all, perhaps only with great ambiguity on the sideline. We have had the most draconian, punitive, mean-spirited welfare reforms forced upon us recently by the present government. There has been great silence by Ardern over recent months, and there is nothing that gives me any faith in Labour going to reverse these hideous new policies brought in under National.

    We also a very hardline, obviously staunchly “work will set you free” preaching Principal Health Advisor Dr David Bratt )for MSD and WINZ), who was hired under the last Labour led government. He likens welfare dependency to “drug dependency”. We presently even have doctors being told to not issue medical certificates “too quickly” for sick and disabled suffering incapacities, and to rather pressure them to go back to work a.s.a.p., following highly questionable, disputed theories and an apparent ideology.

    I have yet to be convinced that future Labour policies will not give overdue consideration to the media generated welfare bashing and resulting negative public sentiment. I will have trust in Labour again, once the party pulls back from being associated with such measures, and restores truly fair, reasonable, inclusive, constructive and respectful welfare policies.

  12. article is entirely premised on the notion that votes really determine political direction. That if Cunliffe needs to win a constituency that means he will remain faithful to them. Fourth Labour government anyone? Most elected governments anyone?

    We need to build a movement that can challenge both capitalist parties.

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