Truth Or Dare? Why David Cunliffe needs to come clean with the Labour Left.



WERE YOU TELLING THE TRUTH, DAVID? When you told your party that the age of neoliberalism was over? That you, alone among all your colleagues, had grasped the meaning of the global financial crisis, and only you could lead Labour to an election victory that would restore New Zealand to itself?

Because they believed you, David. They believed you and they fought for you.

I remember the collective thrill that reverberated through the party conference at Ellerslie when Len Richards told the delegates that it was time to “take our party back!” That’s when the cameras homed in on you, David, seated there in the midst of your New Lynn delegation (not lined up at the microphone to oppose the democratisation of the party like so many of your caucus “colleagues”). And you were smiling, David. You looked elated.

But, were you smiling because Labour’s membership had finally seized control of their party, or was it because you knew that the pathway to the leadership was now clear?

That’s what your enemies said, David. They said you looked like a cat who’s got the cream. And, my, how they rounded on you: accusing you of fomenting a coup against David Shearer. Do you recall the poisonous outbursts of Chris Hipkins? Your demotion to the back benches? The vicious harassment of your allies Charles Chauvel and Leanne Dalziel?

The ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’ faction tried to break you.

But they failed, didn’t they, David? Because, throughout it all, the rank-and-file of the party and the affiliated trade unions remained loyal. And, when Shearer finally threw in the towel, they knew what to do. Over the strenuous efforts of a majority of the caucus, they elected you Leader of the Labour Party. The moral and political lethargy of their MPs had driven the membership close to despair – and you were their Great Red Hope.

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So what happened, David?

One of the polls taken at the conclusion of the leadership contest put Labour on 37 percent – placing it within striking distance of 41.2 percent, Labour’s best ever election result under MMP, and just a couple of percentage points away from Labour’s winning Party Vote of 38.7 percent in 1999. You had momentum, David. New Zealanders liked your message. Labour’s social-democratic values were threatening to come back into fashion.

And then everything went quiet. The 2013 conference, which should have been a rapturous coronation, was a curiously strangled affair. Your more radical supporters were “persuaded” to pull their punches on important left-wing issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the age of eligibility for NZ Superannuation. The uncompromising language of 2012’s Draft Party Platform was watered-down to the point of blandness. Doubters were reassured that Cunliffe was still Cunliffe. That it was a matter of priorities. That, for the moment, “party unity” was paramount.

“Party Unity” – is that what this is all about? Party Unity. Of the sort we saw demonstrated last week by the likes of Kelvin Davis, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins and Trevor Mallard? Forgive me, David, but that didn’t strike me as evidence of a unified party. That looked to me like the ABC Faction flexing its muscles. And you, David. How did you respond to their rank insubordination and strategic stupidity? Did you slap them down? Did you bring them into line?  Like hell you did! You caved. Cravenly and very publicly, David – you caved.

It’s time for you to wise up, David. The voters who thrilled to your election as Labour’s leader won’t take much more of this. Nor will Labour’s left-wing membership. If they had wanted a continuation of the political lethargy and ideological flabbiness that’s characterised their party’s parliamentary leadership since Helen Clark’s departure, then the rank-and-file and the unions would have given their votes to somebody else.

That the Labour Left spurned your opponents was due in no small part to their interpretation of your “The Dolphin and the Dole Queue” speech. They simply assumed that you were readying the country for a Labour-Green coalition, and that this combination would generate a mix of policies well to the left of the caucus’s conservative positions. You can imagine the alarm-bells that started ringing when Labour firmly rejected Russel Norman’s suggestion of a joint Labour-Green campaign effort. Even more alarming was your own use of Winston Peters’ spurious justification for giving nothing away until after the votes have been counted.

In God’s name, man! What do you think Labour is? A minor party! Peters’ uses his “wait until the voters have had their say” line to give himself maximum flexibility when it comes to choosing coalition partners, and to prevent the desertion of his supporters (many of whom are drawn from both the Left and the Right) by stating a clear preference for one over the other before polling day. Are you really telling the world that Labour is now so bereft of ideological confidence and coherence that it must resort to Winston’s opportunistic tactics? Is that how bad things have got? That you need to trick people into voting Labour?

Because if that is the situation, then let me tell you where Labour is headed. It is headed in the direction of entering a Grand Coalition with National. No, don’t shake your head in derision, in many ways the MMP system lends itself to this solution (and in MMP’s birthplace, Germany, there have been a least two Grand Coalition governments since 1947).

Just work your way through it logically.

If the Labour caucus is unwilling to concede ground on policy matters to the Greens; if this is the reason so many of them would prefer to work with the ideologically undemanding Mr Peters; and, if caucus’s antipathy to the prospect of having to deal with Hone Harawira, Laila Harré, Annette Sykes and John Minto is (at least) ten times greater than its hostility towards the Greens; then what will happen if the only government (other than a Grand Coalition) that can be formed when the votes have been counted is a Labour/Green/Internet-Mana Party coalition?

Can you guarantee both your party and your electoral base that the Labour caucus won’t split apart rather than accept the policy consequences of such a radical coalition? Can you tell us that the ABCs wouldn’t do what Labour’s Peter Tapsell did in the cliff-hanger election of 1993 – provide National the margin it needed to govern? If National was shrewd enough to offer Labour the premiership in return for their joining a “Government of National Unity” against “corruption and extremism”, can you promise us you’d turn it down, David. That you’d tell National, Act, Peter Dunne and the ABC’s to go to Hell?

Because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person wondering why David Cunliffe is suddenly so coy when it comes to the parties and the policies he and his colleagues are willing to embrace. Why they cannot seem to see the obvious electoral advantages of running a strategy of co-operation and accommodation with the Greens and the IMP. Why it is that everybody – apart from the Labour caucus – can see that, from a derisory 30 percent in the polls, Labour cannot get to the Beehive on its own: that it must have allies.

You are where you are, David, because your party believed that you would seek for those allies on the Left – not the Right. And now they’re looking for some much needed reassurance.

So, David, tell them again: why do you want to be Labour’s leader?


  1. Umm…I think you missed something Chris. DC was on Q and A and was really emphatic he could work with Greens, Mana and also NZ first (whom me might need). He was clear and positive about it.

    • Anker if that is the case, Cunliffe needs to tell Goff, & Davis to pull their heads in, Labour will need every bit of assistance from the left leaning parties. The way these clowns are mouthing off National will surely get another term. Damn. Someone please kick these morons in the shins.

    • Anker, I don’t think there is any doubt Cunliffe can work with others in a coalition after the election. The problem that Labour needs to think about the political landscape before the election.

      Is Labour’s problem that they were prancing around on their moral high horse last election when National had the foresight to work with their flanks? Labour look like hypocrites because they wasted their breath with moralistic reasoning?

  2. As a Cunliffe supporter I’m prepared to assume he knows this. He (and even Ardern, if you saw her with that Bridges v.2 on The Nation) has kept his cards pretty close to his chest on the IMP.

    Goff’s facebook explosion re: the IMP last week? *spit*

  3. I always laugh when MSM call national’s drum beater a left commentator, trojan horse is a more apt description.

    • Poem

      Have you anything to say except the mindless repetition of this single “trojan horse” line? Minus 1 upclick (as I had assumed you were referring to Josie Pagani).

  4. Chris, you have been sitting on the ideological fence for so long you must have some serious splinters in your backside. If you stay there long enough you will eventually fall off the fence. At least then you will have picked a side.
    Your contradictory articles serve mostly to confuse. Your initial response to the labour-green coalition idea was a resounding no! You posted another article telling us it was an unworkable idea and it was silly for the greens to even suggest it. Then you did a complete u-turn on this, stating that David Cunliffe was foolish not to take up the offer. We can’t keep up Chris with all your roundabout political hypothesis.
    It all comes across as fickle. David is a solid contender. I emphasis the word solid here.

        • LOl dont you read Trotter;s work of fiction? Last year Chris Trotter named john key NZer of the year in one of his articles. he is a fan.

  5. The reality is that David was never who he said he was. Grant was the “left” candidate. I still don’t understand why people were too stupid to realise that.

    Still. Everyone is pretty committed to winning in Sept. Grant’s supporters won’t undermine DC in same way he did to his predecessors.

    • Really? What was Robertson saying or doing that was left?
      Do you have a link to back that up, because everytime I’ve heard Robertson speak he sounds like a direction-less Blairite

  6. This is possibly the first Trotter column that makes sense to me. I’ve been worried about a grand coalition government of national unity for over a year now. There are too many left in Labour who would have gone to ACT if they’d had the cojones, and I see this as a real danger.

    Sadly for Mr. Trotter though, I suspect he’ll be saying something else next week.

  7. If the left voters cannot see Chris that this Face Palm WTF cry of despair at the leadership by you is the bugler on the hill calling for a last rally to get the troops for its leader then i despair that the left will be lost, only one person can rectify this, the “The Dolphin and the Dole Queue” speech seems a distant forgotten call now, maybe it was all just a hollow call that the dolphins have forgotten but those on the dole queue certainly haven’t, is this going to fall on deaf ears as the ABCs sit in the corner smurking, it certainly has that smell about it

    • We have been sold out by neo-liberal Labour, may they rot in hell, in the past. If “Real Old-School” Labour fails us this time… and it sells out to a coalition with Nationannul it will be “Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish”.

  8. This is yet another David Cunliffe media beat up. It is election year after all, and the corrupt self serving nats and their equally corrupt self serving cohorts and partners in crime are fractured.

  9. Chris, I’ve read your article above. I’m not a political commentator, but I learn politics, read all blogs, newspapers, social media etc. Never voted Winston Peters. But view his facebook page to see the support he gets. Also, you should know most of his vote base still not on facebook; too old]. If you can’t see the huge support he gather these days and if you genuinely want to ignore that fact, you are in dark. I bet, Winston Peters will grab the double number of MPs this time and he will decide the Govt. The only party STILL UNTOUCHED by the Internet-MANA is NZ First and will never and that will show on 20th Sept. Read back my opinion on 21st. Could be I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

  10. Labour’s loyal (if rather blinkered) cheerleaders need to open their eyes and smell the roses. If they did, they’d see that the roses aren’t actually bright red; instead they have an unnatural blue tinge.

    “None so blind as those who will not see”.

    David’s advisors (strategists/think tank, spin doctors, whatever) need to pull their heads out of their arses REALLY SOON, because time is running out – not so much for a progressive govt, but for Labour itself.

    They need to lose their arrogant “we know best” mindset, and realise that people can see that what they are saying (or have said) in public is not the same as what they are doing or delivering.

    Ironically, unless the penny drops, it’s not so much the Greens who need to worry about Internet Mana taking their votes away but Labour. I don’t see this as big a problem for our chance of a new progressive left government, as it is for Labour’s “dominance” of such a new coalition government.

    I, for one, am now tiring of banging on and being ignored, and I know I’m not on my own. Adapt or die…only in this case although it won’t be a quick death, I am absolutely convinced that Labour are about to deliver their worse result ever, and a new party of the left will emerge and grow, to the detriment of the “don’t say you weren’t warned” dinosaur parties.

    • Tim – YES -YES – YES. Labour is going to loose if they don’t get their act together. They can only succeed by co operating with all the left leaning parties. And they are foolish of they think they can wait until after the election. We need confidence from Labour now. Leave the sniping to Q & A and Nation – they do that well. I am very worried – some of these loud mouths have ego’s far to big for comfort.

  11. “Because if that is the situation, then let me tell you where Labour is headed. It is headed in the direction of entering a Grand Coalition with National. No, don’t shake your head in derision, in many ways the MMP system lends itself to this solution (and in MMP’s birthplace, Germany, there have been a least two Grand Coalition governments since 1947).”

    I am afraid that a few months ago David Cunliffe appears to have been getting the “message” from the ABC MPs in his caucus, that he better tread carefully and tow their line. There was a marked change in David’s behaviour and how he fronted up to media since then. Truth is, the ABCers have put so much pressure on Cunliffe, they have compromised him, and they are also continuing to compromise and control where Labour as a party is heading, at least up to this coming election.

    Indeed, they would possibly rather go into a grand coalition with National, should they not have the numbers, support and votes from the voters and from other parties they feel comfortable working with.

    But there have been mistakes made also, with policy announcements and with choosing certain policies, certainly with how they have been presented and pushed.

    With the Nats having thrown some carrots out to voters with their budget, things have turned even more problematic for David Cunliffe and Labour.

    Too many in caucus still cling to the dream that they may reach close to or even more than 40 percent of the vote.

    The departure of Jones seems to have motivated other MPs that prefer a middle of the road, conservative economic and social policy, and that rather work with Winston than the Greens, to put even more pressure onto Cunliffe.

    Cunliffe is himself not ruling out working with the Greens or any other party, and he did repeatedly say or indicate this. But his careful maneuvering is sending out the message to voters, that there is uncertainty within Labour, and some lack of a clear direction. That will turn off many voters, especially those that favoured Cunliffe over Shearer, and those who want truly progressive and also convincing policies coming from Labour.

    A talk around a round table with the Greens was the least Cunliffe and Labour should have had, but they have now encouraged the Greens to focus on their own goals, and to also put up some candidates in electorates, who may actually split the progressive vote. While it is wise for Labour to be careful with making statements about working with IMP, they should also realise the potential, as that would enable truly progressive policies to be put forward and passed in a new government, rather than having a deal struck with NZ First.

    Labour thus does not convince enough, and Cunliffe as leader does also tend to lose more credibility, by steering the way they are. The chance of winning next election are not enhanced by all this. It is indeed all being put at risk, and I fear we can “thank” the same ABC lot again for this.

  12. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if we think David Cunliffe can do the job by himself we might as well give up now. I want to hear from Labour Party members about what is going on inside the party – what can they do to put pressure on the ABCs, or even get rid of them, and tell us on the outside where we should be putting pressure on.

    All this wailing into the wind is getting me down. We the people should be giving the Labour party no choice but to dump the ABCs but instead we sit hear commentating as if we’re watching a soap opera we have no power over.

  13. It would appear their current strategy is to release a few sound bites and see what the reaction is.

    This just tells me they really don’t have any solid policy so again this tired lot of politicians are bereft of ideas so NZ isn’t likely to get ahead yet again.

    The constant centrist policies coming from Labour are not what the left want, right now we need policies that favour us poor to middle class people, in particular around costs of living, stagnating incomes and being stuck in the rental trap. This should come natural to Labour but from what I have seen since being able to vote over 20 years now, Labour have become a slight tinge of blue rather than the red they are meant to represent.

  14. The issue of Chris Trotter’s bipolar oscillations aside, there will be many true progressives out there for whom this article resonates deeply.

    The many interactions I’ve had with those who occupy a position to the left of the National Lite laager into which Labour policy has long since been driven, have been characterised by a range of emotions ranging from the disappointment of being duped to the despair of premeditated betrayal.

    I don’t recall when last Labour actually led the progressive agenda in a consistent and coherent way; certainly it wasn’t under Helen Clark, whose administration yielded such failures as the Foreshore and Seabed policy, NZ’s opposition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and much, much more. Its record on environmental issues hasn’t exactly been exemplary either.

    The talents and integrity of a few Labour MPs aside, the party appears to have little to offer any longer apart from court intrigues and the sort of embarrassing outbursts that we’ve grown to expect from the likes of Goff and, more recently, Davis.

    Rather than implementing considered actions to accelerate the momentum to a smarter and more progressive future for New Zealand, Labour is manifesting hazards in the path of those who actually are.

    Labour’s now had 30 years to redeem itself for the actions of the Lange government; when the betrayal has lasted longer than a generation and redemption isn’t even on the horizon, what choices are left to those on the true Left?

  15. There are probably multiple reasons for Cunliffe’s caginess. His political theorists would tell him that he’d lose more votes from specificity than obscurity – a technique Winston at least plays to the hilt. And there is the matter of the vicious MSM corruption, that aims to ‘hold Cunliffe to account’ for policies he is developing – a standard they never try to maintain with the Gnats though the evidence of their policy failures is abundant and graphic.

    It would be nice if he could be more open and direct – and it would be nice if Chris devoted more of his vitriol to the servants of entropy and decay presently wrecking havoc upon our nation.

  16. And just where are the backroom lasses and lads on this one?

    When will Moira Coatsworth arrange a small meeting down behind the bike sheds for the dissident ABCs?

    Why do Mallard, Hipkins and Co think they can ignore the will of the membership and stage these divisive and false outrage outbursts 110 days before the election?

    Are there no senior members who can absolutely promise these myopic pests a stint on Elba (one way) if they don’t stop stoving in the planks (let alone rocking the boat)?

    Is there no one to tell Mallard that his fantasy about being Speaker, then London or NY High Commissioner, is highly unlikely if his flouncing and scheming don’t stop forthwith? And Hipkins will be undergoing re-education not stepping up as Minister of Education if he can’t get ‘united we stand with a chance – divided the hyenas get our lunches and us’ through his silly head.

    No one?!

    Why not???

  17. As a rank-and-file Labour Party member, I agree totally. We elected David Cunliffe to the leadership of OUR party for a reason, and that reason was NOT to bow down to right wingers like Goff, Davis and Hipkins.

    Is history repeating itself? Once before, atthe end of the 1980s, I left Labour in disgust, after it was hijacked by Douglas, Prebble and their traitorous cronies. Or, whould I say, Labour left me, I did not willingly choose to leave Labour back then. If Goff and his cronies get away with another hijack, if they take MY party away from me again, that will be it for me! Never again will I ever return to Labour, and the same for many of my friends also, we will all go and join up with Laila, Hone, and Annette, and Labour will be a spent force.

    Far as I am concerned those bloody traitors should be kicked out of the party, the party would be better off without people like Goff, Davis and Hipkins. Begone, you devious right wingers!

  18. @ Michael

    ” The issue of Chris Trotter’s bipolar oscillations aside … ”

    Who can blame Chris Trotter for his , and to use your words ‘ bipolar ‘ oscillations . Cunliffe is all over the place like a mad man shitting . The Labour Party is still so infected by neo liberal abuse victims they have as much focus as Mr Magoo trying to shoot ducks with a pop gun .
    I see a scramble for power and dollars as election time nears and I wait on that particular event like a biopsy report on a lump .
    Cunliffe is nutless in my view . He can’t be in opposition to freaky jonky and his satanic minions while cooing on Campbell Live that he ‘ gets along with jonky as a person ‘ . WTF ? What did he mean by that ? Jonky becomes a non person when he dons his pointy prime minister hat and has to lower himself to deal with us miserable hoi polloi ?
    But I digress .
    Perhaps the real reason why cunliffe is prevaricating is because he also is playing the deep , dark game that this humble writer often makes reference to . That of the Institutionalised Lie .

    @ Stuart Munro .
    “ … and it would be nice if Chris devoted more of his vitriol to the servants of entropy and decay presently wrecking havoc upon our nation. – “

    He is dummy . I think you might have a problem with keeping up with Chris Trotters pace of thought . If you have trouble remembering the NZ political 1980’s I’d suggest you use a white board pen and write reminders for yourself on your fridge .
    We have every reason for being hugely suspicious of cunliffe and his bro’s and ho’s and I personally applaud anyone who’s brave enough to publicly keep watch for us . In these heady times of the neo liberal anything’s possible . Traitors come in all disguises and those who seem to have the best intentions are in fact often the ones doing the most damage . Pig Muldoon trumpeting on about being for the farmer must surely be one of the best examples of that particular Machiavellian swindle .
    Leave Chris Trotter the fuck alone ! Give the academic his head and see where that takes us . Dragging back the free thinker is a classic Kiwi Tall Poppy bashing technique and is typical of the envious and the weak minded .

    • Chris writes no columns without angst – it is a depressive trope – and not often helpful. This ‘advice for Cunliffe’ boilerplate has become a standard ploy of far right trolls and pundits. I wouldn’t mind if he were equally ‘helpful’ to the other side – but he is not.

      Yes, a lot of Labour need to be taken to the woodshed. But surely we can manage that without the swiftboating. Labour leaders seem to have a hard row to hoe – vicious MSM attacks, colleagues who’ve less strategic sense than could be wished, and now a certain amount of friendly fire too.

      Tall poppies though? Tall poppies bow, and are not diminished. Think Sir Ed.

  19. Well aside form the most stupid face on a politician that Ive ever seen (the photo at the top of this article) I often wonder if there is anything in that head behind the photo!.

    One thing a country needs is a good strong opposition. Without that the government tends to go feral. They either do nothing (as the current lot are doing) or they do stupid things – like labour did in the early eighties.

    I listen to parliament and I shake my head when labour chase things like Collins (who outside wellington gives a rats arse about who she had dinner with?), and I listen to the labour questions and wonder who wrote most of them as so many of them simply open the floodgates of agony that regularly comes from key and the ministers as they regurgitate previous statements from earlier labour MPs. Its embarrasing to see so many labour questions result in so many labour red faces.

    There is a serious lack of strategic thinking among labour. Im sure theyre capabale of it – but obvioulsy there are internal problems that prevent them from concentrating on the real issue. I wouldnt surprised if they really collapse as the election gets closer.

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