Selling Cunliffe

July 14th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday that I thought would be the next Leader of the Labour Party.

Today, I wanted to preview how I would go about “selling” DC if he did become Leader.

Some, amongst the beltway, think this is a tough sell, because he is seen to be somewhat lacking in the common touch.

However this overlooks the fact that 95% of New Zealanders will have no firm impression of Cunliffe. Most NZers are not like the blogosphere, where politics is followed on a daily basis.

The first few weeks or months of a new leader, can set a brand which will last for years if done well.

With the benefit of hindsight, Helen Clark did Phil Goff a terrible disservice by resigning on election night, and forcing Goff to become Leader three days after the election. All the media focus was on the new Prime Minister, so Goff never got the benefits of the normal “Who is ….” profiles.

So the first key step for Labour, if they lose the election, is not to allow Goff to resign straight away. He should remain in the job until at least early 2012, which will maximise publicity about the likely new leader, and allow the normal print and broadcast stories on him, introducing him to the public at large.

Then we turn to the substance – how do you sell Cunliffe as different to former Labour leaders, or in other words what would you expect from a Cunliffe-led Labour?

The major brand I would seek to establish for Cunliffe is that he is the first ever Labour Party Leader with a strong business and private sector background. He is not a unionist, an academic or an identity politician. His Labour Party is not an anti-business Labour Party, but a party that understands business.

DC spent four years working for the Boston Consulting Group as an economist and business strategy advisor. BCG is one of the pre-eminent management consulting firms and has appeared for five years in a row as one of Fortune Magazine’s top 15 companies to work for. BCG do not hire low achievers. Other former employees include Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The secondary brand I would seek to establish for Cunliffe is that he is the guy who finally did something about Telecom’s monopolistic behaviour. While it was done on sound public policy grounds (supported by even NBR and Fran O’Sullivan), it was also hugely popular.

It was a ballsy call, which could have ended up in a massive war of attrition, such as happened in Australia with Telstra. But DC managed to get a parliamentary select committee to unanimously back operational separation of Telecom.

So there is an opportunity to brand Cunliffe as someone who understands and supports business, but also willing to stand up to big business when their actions hurt every day New Zealanders.

I think that would see a fair number of New Zealanders saying, hey we might give this guy a go.

Of course the challenge will be to actually deliver sensible policies, and a united team, that supports those policies. That is far from guaranteed. But if Labour do elect Cunliffe, and Cunliffe can establish a positive brand, then the 2014 election could be competitive.

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43 Responses to “Selling Cunliffe”

  1. Sam (493 comments) says:

    He’s just got my vote :)

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  2. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    So the best way to sell him as a Labour leader is that he’s not much like a Labour leader. I can see the logic.

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  3. mavxp (490 comments) says:

    I agree with Put it away. Seems like you are trying to sell him to National voters, not traditional workers in NZ who voted National because they had a guts full of Labour under Helen and her bribery of students with interest free loans, social engineering (smacking legislation), and general arrogrance.

    Labour are the party of socialists who see business as a cash cow they can milk to pay for welfare and high minimum wages. Fundamentally that is not business friendly.

    The real question from reading this therefore, is with that supposed business nous – why is Cunliffe in Labour and not National?

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  4. Pete George (21,796 comments) says:

    Cunliffe’s hardest job will be selling himself to Labour. And getting enough caucus support. Labour and NZ could be better for it, but the prospects don’t look great at the moment.

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  5. Jack5 (4,211 comments) says:

    DPF writes of Cunliffe:

    The secondary brand I would seek to establish for Cunliffe is that he is the guy who finally did something about Telecom’s monopolistic behaviour. While it was done on sound public policy grounds (supported by even NBR and Fran O’Sullivan), it was also hugely popular.

    Not popular with the tens of thousands of NZ mum and dad investors who were among those who saw this wipe billions off the value of their shares.

    A number of business commentators criticised Cunliffe (including Bruce Sheppard, then leading the Shareholders’ Association) for what was virtually a state confiscation of property rights.

    If Cunliffe had been fair he would have renationalised Telecom at current value, then refloated it, with its copper network unbundled, which most agree, was how the initial float should have been done.

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  6. Thomas the Unbeliever (141 comments) says:

    DPF – your strategy might encourage some National voters to reconsider their opinion ….. it is unlikely to endear him to Labour supporters – let alone Maori Party or Green voters. I’m not comvinced Cunliffe has sufficient skills/charm to sway caucus behind closed doors. I suspect that Cunliffe’s only possible shot at the big chair is if there are no other viable contenders. Shane Jones has more chance.

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  7. Nefarious (533 comments) says:

    I didn’t have time to read the full ad, but I’ll take him.

    How does $20 and a half eaten butter chicken pie sound?

    What is he like at woodchopping? And is it ok to keep him in the shed, the mrs won’t let him sleep in the house, reckons he’ll be a carrier even if he’s not yet showing symptoms.

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  8. Brian Harmer (686 comments) says:

    I seriously doubt that you can sell any of the present Labour leaders until there are enough new voters in the pool who were not politically aware during the previous regime. 2015 might almost make it, by which time Cunliffe will be past his prime in the eyes of the youngsters.

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  9. jims_whare (389 comments) says:

    Nah – keep Phil Goff until 2015……………much better option. Maybe Little will help stack the Labour list to kick a bunch of the rainbow fruit loops out of Parliament and bring more sane thinking lefties (if they exist) into their caucus.

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  10. Falafulu Fisi (2,176 comments) says:

    DPF said…
    DC spent four years working for the Boston Consulting Group as an economist and business strategy advisor. BCG is one of the pre-eminent management consulting firms and has appeared for five years in a row as one of Fortune Magazine’s top 15 companies to work for.

    Did David formally study economics? There is nothing wrong with someone who didn’t formally study economics but if he/she had acquired knowledge about the subject, via reading up on it, then it is good. I do read lots on economics even though I never formally study the subject. The difference here as I have observed (anecdotal), that those who studied it formally have more depth compared to those who didn’t but have done some reading up on the subject.

    DPF said…
    The secondary brand I would seek to establish for Cunliffe is that he is the guy who finally did something about Telecom’s monopolistic behaviour.

    DPF, that comment above shows that you’re a true socialist. You’re no friend of the free-market and no friend of property rights. FFS, what has kneecapping Telecom achieved today? Are the consumers getting better deal today as a result of that property violations initiated by Mr Cunliffe?

    [DPF: Yes a massively better deal. Business broadband (for example) has dropped from $2,000/mth to $100/mth)

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  11. david (2,482 comments) says:

    If Cunners was selected by the agreement of the various factions in Labour, the elastic would have pretty much all the stretch taken out of it. By this I mean that he would have very very little room to stamp any of his philosophy on the party’s policies, the various interest groups will simply not allow himthe room to move.

    To me this alone says that they will pick someone from closer to the factional centre of gravity. Whoever that is (maybe they will choose Street) who will be trusted sufficiently that they will have a bit of room to move on policy.

    Havng said all that, if anyone thinks that Caucus really selects the Labour Party PM, they vastly underestimate the influence of the faceless, nameless power brokers who select the “useful idiots” to front for them on topical issues while the long term agenda trucks along.

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  12. poneke (280 comments) says:

    Did David formally study economics?

    He went to Harvard, no less!

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  13. Manolo (12,614 comments) says:

    “DPF, that comment above shows that you’re a true socialist. You’re no friend of the free-market and no friend of property rights.”

    The emperor is naked!

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  14. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    I agree with Put it away. Seems like you are trying to sell him to National voters, not traditional workers in NZ who voted National

    ‘Traditional’ Nat voters might not go for it, the key here is probably swing voters.

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  15. Red Sam (120 comments) says:

    A very interesting read, DPF. From the New Zealand Parliament website regarding Cunliffe:

    Education/qualifications
    Int Bacc, United World College of the Atlantic 1982-1982
    BA (Hons1), University of Otago 1986-1986
    Dip Soc Sci (Distinction) in Economics, Massey University 1993-1993
    MPA, Harvard University
    1994-1995 Fullbright Scholar, Harvard University
    Kennedy Memorial Fellow, Harvard University

    Career
    Diplomat, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wellington 1987-1987 Diplomat, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra 1988-1988 Diplomat, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, South Pacific Aid 1989-1990 Diplomat, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Washington DC 1991-1994 Economist/Business Strategy Adviser, The Boston Consulting Group, Auckland 1995-1999 Community Worker, Glen Eden 1999-1999

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  16. anonymouse (651 comments) says:

    Labour and Goff’s next problem is that if Goff (and presumably King) stand down as leaders in 2012, they will either be forced to sit on the back-benches for the following 2 years, – which never really works well for ex leaders,

    - or resign fully and force 2 by-elections, (Along with the no-doubt constant badgering of “if you were planning to resign why did you just stand in the last election)

    Goff should be able to read the way the wind in blowing by the end of 2010, if the Nats continues to poll ~50%, he should choose not to stand and resign as leader, this would allow the next leader ( Cunliffe?) a clear run.

    Sure it is not an optimal outcome, but it allows the rejuvenation to get under way, currently Labour are in some sort of walking -undead phase with many senior MPs simply not coming to terms with needing to resign for the good of the Party.

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  17. big bruv (12,321 comments) says:

    All well and good DPF but you gave not addressed Cunliffe’s biggest problem.

    He still comes across as a smarmy, arrogant wanker.

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  18. David in Chch (503 comments) says:

    poneke @ 2.11 pm:

    Echoes of a line from Casablanca:
    Henri Renault, Prefect of Casablanca Police to Rick Blaine, owner of Rick’s:

    We have Major Strasse here, of the Third Reich, no less!

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  19. david (2,482 comments) says:

    @poneke, Harvard offers more than economics. He actually did a MPA which I would interpret as a Masters in Public Policy which is a favourite degree for politicians and career civil servants but which, as far as I can judge, is as much use as tits on a bull or to put it another way is akin to a degree in that other great contradiction in terms …… Political Science.

    Thanks Red Sam for the CV.

    His Economics credentials appear to be a Diploma in Social Science (majoring in Economics) which is a one year post-grad diploma by the looks of it. Once over lightly, highly biased towards social issues, hardly serious study in a specialuist subject and insufficient to allow one to be called an Economist.

    His BA of course may have been more tightly focussed.

    What intrigued me is that he was shipped off to Canberra a year after joining the Ministry which seems to be very hasty. He is either exceptional or has some powerful sponsors.

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  20. J Mex (178 comments) says:

    The Labour spin team will laugh at your juvenile strategy DPF.

    I am sure they believe that all Cunliffe would need is a new walk…

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  21. Lee C (4,516 comments) says:

    Interstingly enough I blogged about this in February –
    http://monkeyswithtypewriter.blogspot.com/2009/02/deputy-cunliffe-meets-monkey-boy.html

    I agree (actually you agree with me – but that’s not to say you are wrong)

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  22. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    @david 3:14 pm

    Fair points, but obviously *something* he did was relevant enough for him to become an economist and business strategy advisor for BCG. Probably an ‘economist’ in a loose sense, but still.

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  23. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    [DPF: Yes a massively better deal. Business broadband (for example) has dropped from $2,000/mth to $100/mth]

    Crickey dick.

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  24. slightlyrighty (2,448 comments) says:

    You would have thought that in a caucus comprising Hodgson, King, Goff, Jones, Horomia, Dyson, Mallard and Carter, a capable leader would have stood out like dogs bollocks.

    The fact that he hasn’t to the general public, given his capabilities, suggests that he is more of an operator than Goff will ever be. Labour made the mistake of underestimating Key, National should not underestimate Cunliffe.

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  25. Tauhei Notts (1,508 comments) says:

    Mr Cunliffe must somehow rid himself of that unfortunate sobriquet
    “Silent T”.

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  26. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    ROFL at these comments.
    The faithful [can't/won't] listen to anything other than “Cunliffe is Labour and Labour are all baby-eating, godless socialists.”

    This leftie works in private enterprise and would welcome a commercially-savvy Labour leader, FWIW. It will be interesting to see if the Labour party takes the tip from this column, and picks Cunliffe and styles him this way :-)

    PS: Tauhei – why? That’s a Kiwiblog in-joke. Nobody else knows or cares.

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  27. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    So his career peaked at Community Worker Glen Eden. In a way it emulates that of President O’Bama and look what kind of a job he is doing now.

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  28. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    Or could it be that DPF has his National staffer hat on in writing this column, and has a tailor-made character assasination all ready and waiting should a Cunliffe (TM) along the above lines emerge?

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  29. Rick Rowling (776 comments) says:

    Did David formally study economics?

    He went to Harvard, no less!

    “I am Harvard”

    For one short year or two
    I suckled you
    With potent milk
    Of truth and learning.

    /feeling queasy

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  30. david (2,482 comments) says:

    stephen @3:29
    My experience with BCG was that they all carried impressive titles, they were able to sell the standard powerpoint “analysis of the year” (in those days it was the Star/Cash Cow/Dog etc 2D/4 quadrant analysis) exceedingly well at a high corporate level, were heinously expensive, presented beautifully bound reports and recommendations that almost always entailed shedding staff, vanished before the implementation phase got them caught up in detail. While they called themselves economists, generally BCG consultants did not impress me as having any particular expertise but posessed brilliant academic CV’s.

    Once bitten etc ….

    A significant part of their work was contracts from large corporates where CEOs needed an external endorsement in order to sell their plans to the Board who did not have the ability or intellect to assess their CE’s plans for themselves. Waving a BCG report was one of the ways of doing that and of course it then looked really good on the CV of the Consultant to show the list of major corporates that he had consulted to. A bit of an incestuous circle jerk really.

    Colour me cynical but that is only one man’s opinion.

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  31. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    DPF… However this overlooks the fact that 95% of New Zealanders will have no firm impression of Cunliffe. Most NZers are not like the blogosphere, where politics is followed on a daily basis.

    No but most NZers already have a firm impression of Little being the next Labour leader through the main media already.

    And lets face it Cunliffe always has a smart arse boyish smerk… that rubs working class NZers up the wrong way.. they only see the smerk and the suit over that of anything that comes out his mouth… and that impression of Cunliffe won’t change in 2011-2014.

    Where Andrew Little already has a working man base and image that working class NZers can relate too.

    So although David Cunliffe has a strong business and private sector background and DPFs running for Labours next natural leader… I disagree…he does not have the image that relates to Labour supporters, like Andrew Little has, with his strong working class business background.

    If Labour go with Cunliffe they will only shoot themselves in the foot and make National and DPF very happy.

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  32. calendar girl (1,108 comments) says:

    You put a lot of store by David Cunliffe’s work title at BCG, David. So I wonder, what exactly did he do, and with what level of success? What projects / deals did he work on? Who were his clients? Did he lead the BCG team on certain projects / deals, or was he invariably one of the drones doing the back-room leg work?

    You see, it’s making a huge assumption to contend that David Cunliffe has a “strong business and private sector background” just because he worked for BCG New Zealand for four years. BCG is a well-regarded consultancy, but employment by that company does not ensure business success by any individual. Even BCG has its share of consultants who never get beyond borrowing your watch to tell you the time. To say that “BCG do not hire low achievers” is itself a leap of faith – the company has its share of disappointments as most employers do.

    Based on the abbreviated cv supplied above by Red Sam, Mr Cunliffe has never run a business where he was primarily responsible for NPAT outcomes and balance sheet preservation / enhancement. All I know (so far) is that he advised certain unnamed companies on their business strategies. Was his advice ever accepted and acted upon? We don’t know. What were the results for companies acting on his advice? We don’t know, and probably never will.

    The man clearly has potential to be a high achiever – witness his acceptance as a student by Harvard, and his ministerial ranking in the previous government. But the description “with a strong business and private sector background” would tend to be unadulterated spin by the Labour Party unless it was accompanied by some evidence of successful business achievements.

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  33. Falafulu Fisi (2,176 comments) says:

    DPF said…
    Yes a massively better deal. Business broadband (for example) has dropped from $2,000/mth to $100/mth)

    Jesus, DPF. Where is the better deal for the owner/s (shareholders) of Telecom? They’ve lost most of the portfolio value of their investments. So, in short (as a worshipper of state interference yourself), you have no problem with destroying other people’s properties in the name of the greater good (a socialist phrase) so that the majority can live & enjoy some gains at the expense of the owners? Look at the Telecom’s share-price, today? How can you live with that? Where is the call from the likes of you and other socialists for the Government to compensate the loss that Telecom owners had encountered since Mr Cunliffe kneecapped them a few years ago?

    You gained some benefits (cheaper broadband) out of Labour’s kneecapping of Telecom, but I’ve yet to see you calling for the compensation of Telecom shareholders for their loss. You’re either disingenuous here or else, in your deluded mind you still think that Telecom belongs to the government (even though it’s been sold), in which they have the right to kick them at the whim of misguided politicians who frequently use such tactics to win votes.

    [DPF: When Telecom was sold, there were conditions of the sale, including not to act anti-competitively. They did, and eventually steps were taken to stop them. The only outrage is it took so long]

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  34. Johnboy (13,335 comments) says:

    Courtesy of the back of a Mainfreight truck:

    “Consultants are the people who come down from the hills to shoot the wounded after the battle is over”

    I think Cunliffe would make a very fine consultant. :)

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  35. Thomas the Unbeliever (141 comments) says:

    David Cunliffe = Kevin Rudd. Having friends who will back you (even if they are bought) is important in politics – especially in a Labour caucus.

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  36. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    Labour made the mistake of including to many minority groups to its ranks over the years.. that have since taking over the party and stared Labour away from its core values and support mainly the working class. People get confused about middle class working NZ.. they are not socialists or liberals they are just honest hard-working lower and middle class New Zealanders wanting a fair days pay for fair days work.. Which is most working NZers…Little would be the only candidate capable of taking Labour back to its core roots away from the political Liberals and Socialist elements that now influence the party through Helen Clark and others… Little could stare the party back to hard working middle class New Zealand that have gone over to party’s like National away from Labour for many years, some for over 40- 50 years, because Labour left them for non core minority political groups that make up Labour today.

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  37. Auberon (816 comments) says:

    I think he’s got Williams Syndrome. Look it up, especially the pictures on a Google image search. My theory is that explains the long neck and lack of a chin.

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  38. Inventory2 (9,787 comments) says:

    Cunliffe comes with significant baggage. He sacked the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board on very spurious grounds in early 2008. There were, at the time allegations that Annette King’s husband’s business partner had been given preferential treatment in contracting for high-value home-care services. There were also allegations that Annette King’s husband had bullied a staff member who blew the whistle. The LGO’s of the Hawke’s Bay, in a rare show of unity, took legal action against Cunliffe’s decision. The hearing of the judicial review was deferred until after the 2008 election; once the government changed, Tony Ryall reinstated the sacked Board members.

    That’s one issue; the other is Bill Liu – the details are here:

    http://keepingstock.blogspot.com/2009/01/more-grief-for-cunners.html

    These are two issues which are bound to come back and haunt Cunliffe if he became Labour’s leader.

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  39. Positan (376 comments) says:

    It’s ironic that while self-inflicted damage has cast Labour as the party of fruitcakes, fruitcake causes and nanny state policies – its minions just don’t seem able to absorb why the public remains so dismissive of it. Cunliffe may be the most leadership-competent of their ill-equipped parliamentary lot – but he’d be just one man, charged with the impossible task of implementing the membership-inspired nuttiness.

    I’ve talked with many, many Labour supporters over the years in effort to understand their elemental motivation. Fundamentally, they all evince the same mental block – a complete lack of interest in the pluses and minuses of policy. Unless somehow personally affected, their dependency lay in which party mooted what, when determining their viewpoint; which is either in-built inability to rationalise, or overpowering need to abdicate responsibility for their own thinking. Cunliffe could never affect that.

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  40. Jimbob (639 comments) says:

    Anyone can win an election in a prolonged recession. You know what they say about beauty at 2 o’clock in the morning.

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  41. reid (15,505 comments) says:

    Colour me cynical but that is only one man’s opinion.

    I think we’ll find as we go through the political path ahead that whatever his track record and whatever his innate abilities (of which he appears inordinately aware), he’ll prove to the electorate which isn’t dumb, his “Kiwiblog sobriquet”

    Liarbore are absolutely totally fucked. Thanks to Hulun’s ego, they find themselves with no clear successor, no clear path forward. Nothing. Except to look back and dredge up past mistakes (Hulun’s) and try to fix them.

    No doubt at some point a future leader with integrity will make themselves known. I predict it will be Shane Jones on the comeback trail. Andrew Little has limited appeal as will be demonstrated after he narrowly loses the election after which he takes over from Silent-T, who is dismissed in disgrace. Unlike English, I predict no-one will have sympathy for him and no-one will want him back, mostly due to demonstrable aforesaid sobriquet.

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  42. mavxp (490 comments) says:

    Clearly NZ is bored of Labour and Cunliffe wont change that. Perhaps we need a new, more dramatic centre left party for the liberally inclined to vote for such as the new Public Affairs party in the Czech republic:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/czechrepublic/7885809/Female-Czech-MPs-pose-for-calendar.html

    ;-)

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  43. Flashman (184 comments) says:

    Never mind the electorate, Cunliffe first has to tick boxes with his own party:

    1. Gay?
    2. Unionist?
    3. Feminist?
    4. Multiculturalist?
    5. Endorsed by Clarke?

    P.S. Keep an eye on La Street.

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