All about Cunliffe

November 25th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Phil Taylor in the NZ Herald profiles David Cunliffe:

In government, Cunliffe was one of Clark’s standout ministers, succeeding, where others failed, in unbundling Telecom’s local loop monopoly, and making bold decisions as health minister.

I’ve said many times that I thought Cunliffe was an excellent ICT and Comms Minister. He not only made good decisions, but he absolutely understood the issues from major to minor, and showed a determination to make beneficial changes.

I have to say also that I’ve never personally seen any of the issues cited by some of his colleagues about him. Yes he is ambitious, and I certainly think he made the wrong decision last weekend in his choice of words. But I’ve always found him honest and trustworthy. However I accept that others have a different perspective.

“Look, he’s a nice bloke, I like the guy. He was a competent minister [and] in my view he was a team player. I’d have to say that he polarises people. I don’t know what it is about his personality but he has the ability to make people utterly despise him.”

Two sources who have worked closely with Cunliffe are adamant he is made of the right stuff. The former staffer rates him as an exceptional boss, “warm, friendly, polite, and caring about his staff”. The staffer did no see him lose his temper with anyone despite long hours and the pressure of making tough political decisions such as approving animal organ transplants, sacking a hospital board, and going against the wishes of the strong herceptin lobby.

He can’t understand why Cunliffe attracts such passionate opposition among his caucus colleagues.

A lot of people who have worked with Cunliffe only have good things to say about him.

“He had a terrible personality clash with Clayton Cosgrove [a Shearer loyalist].

I think they both came in together in 1999 so there was a bit of rivalry. Cosgrove is thought to be the MP responsible for giving Cunliffe the Silent T nickname – but this has not been confirmed.

Quite right, says a health sector source who worked closely with Cunliffe. He is the right type to lead New Zealand, she told the Herald , having character, brains, heart and being in “politics for all the right reasons”.

Suggestions of arrogance were “a myth. It’s jealousy and spite. He’s talented, he’s open about his ambitions. That’s him he’s honest to a fault. He cares passionately about New Zealand and he has ideas about how to make it a better society.”

But Matthew Hooton in NBR is less generous:

But after Mr Cunliffe’s incredible antics this week – the ridiculously facile answers to the media; the smarm; the smirking; the fake wounded innocence; the bizarre victim mentality – my view is reversed.

Put Mr Cunliffe on national TV every night and the voters will certainly be repulsed. …

Hooton lays waste to the claims that Cunliffe did nothing wrong:

Now, Team Cunliffe expects us to believe, there never was any kind of leadership challenge planned at all.

According to Mr Cunliffe’s diminishing supporters, all their man has done these last four years is diligently work on new policy to break the current neoliberal hegemony.  (Yes, they really do talk that way.) …

The new story being put about by Team Cunliffe is that all the speculation about a leadership challenge at Labour’s conference was a right-wing media construct.

Under this scenario, current leader Mr Shearer was put into the job by a right-wing cabal as the human face of the dreaded neoliberalism.  (Team Cunliffe also sometimes says Mr Shearer is a neoconservative but consistency is not its strong point.) …

Alarmed at such apostasy, Team Cunliffe tells us, right-wing media barons, including even at Radio New Zealand, instructed their reporters to make up a story that he was challenging Mr Shearer for the leadership.

Poor Mr Cunliffe!  When he arrived at his party conference, the dastardly right-wing press gallery asked him whether he would support Mr Shearer’s leadership next year.

Mr Cunliffe could have said “yes” and the devious neoliberal plot would have been thwarted.  But, no, our Mr Cunliffe is way too honest for that.  Instead, he reserved his position:  “This is a constitutional conference, not a leadership conference.”

Disingenuously, the right-wing media decided that the fifth-ranked MP in the main opposition party refusing to publicly support his leader at their annual conference was newsworthy.

They even used camera angles to try to make Mr Cunliffe look smug and smarmy.

He’s not of course.  As his supporters point out, it’s just that his mind works so much faster than anyone else’s. 

Ouch, Matthew can be so sarcastic.

John Armstrong is more balanced:

Finance was not the only job Cunliffe was hankering for in Opposition.

According to insiders, he also unsuccessfully lobbied the caucus to appoint a second deputy leader. No prizes for guessing who intended filling the job.

Such an unquenchable ambition causes him to exempt himself from the laws of politics to which everyone else adheres.

It was not the first time and – as the past week or so has shown – not the last time that he has overreached himself.

That, in a nutshell, is the tragedy of . He has most of the attributes required of a leader – intellect, political acumen, the ability to articulate the party’s position on something in simple, easily understood language.

He is pragmatic enough to bend when necessary, yet principled enough to stick to principle when the occasion demands.

But like Icarus, the figure of Greek mythology, Cunliffe tends to fly too close to the sun.

Can he come back:

The question now is whether colleagues could work under him. One of this week’s most significant statements was made by one such colleague, Chris Hipkins, who accused Cunliffe of undermining the Labour team.

If Cunliffe did manage to come back, then a number of senior MPs would not credibly be able to serve under him and would have to head to the backbenches.

Finally why did the Cunliffe “challenge fail? I think Claire Trevett has the answer:

Sources have also since claimed that on the Friday Cunliffe and his ally, Rajen Prasad, unsuccessfully tried to stack the Ethnic Sector council with Cunliffe supporters, including trying to install Cunliffe’s electorate committee member Susan Zhu as chairwoman. The ethnic sector group has more than 1000 members in it and is a potentially rich voting pool for a hopeful leadership contender. The rumour was that the plan was for the ethnic sector group to eventually publicly endorse Cunliffe come the time of a leadership contest.

If your plan for seizing the leadership rests on the strategic genius of Rajen Prasad, then you deserve to lose 🙂

It is interesting though that all the media have been full of stories against Cunliffe – obviously coming from other MPs. Yet Cunliffe himself has stayed quiet.

18 Responses to “All about Cunliffe”

  1. Manolo (22,078 comments) says:

    All the above said, he could well be PM come November 2014.

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  2. orewa1 (430 comments) says:

    Labour MPs should rise above all their bitchiness and recognise that Cunliffe has talents in abundance – clearly more than any other member of their caucus.

    Practically all the criticism of him has originated from within. Very little from the real world. Maybe this says a great deal about the caucus culture post-Clark. In the surreal atmosphere of the party caucus room, logic gets trumped by spite and jealousy.

    I’ve worked with Cunliffe quite closely for several years. I’d be very happy to have him as a neighbour and invite him to my barbecues.

    However, it may all be irrelevant now – the constitutional changes may have made the party unelectable.

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  3. Yvette (3,027 comments) says:

    Hooton says –The new story being put about by Team Cunliffe is that all the speculation about a leadership challenge at Labour’s conference was a right-wing media construct.

    But doesn’t name Brian Edwards, and various others who worked up a frenzy over Shearer having to make the speech of his life to ward off a doomed career. The housing policy announcement was crafted for that – and was totally lost in the fallout [as again anything Labour stands for was destroyed by those who stand for Labour]
    After more than a week of media specualtion about the Leader’s suitability to actually lead, it was almost an after thought to question who could replace him, and that appeared to only occur again to the media after the rules on coups was passed.

    Labour lost the Election because they didn’t change Leader when they had already decided they should have, and they are still fucking around doing the same, and will carry on screwing about until at least February.
    They may sort it out just in time to buy shares in the state assets they were going to stop from being sold.

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  4. questions (230 comments) says:

    Hooton has no credibility, he should stick to chasing down mean mean people saying mean things on blogs.

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  5. ross69 (3,651 comments) says:

    > Matthew Hooton in NBR is less generous

    Good God, Hooters is again criticising a Labour MP? Who would’ve thunk it?!!!

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  6. Monique Watson (1,302 comments) says:

    Cunliffe didn’t overreach himself. He just didn’t adhere to the “Labour vision”. That vision is exemplified by Robertson, Shearer, Ardern and those women who have been in the Labour Caucus for far too long and not done anything, such as Moroney. “Socialism by Stealth”.
    Cunliffe was too right wing for his former boss who is now at the UN banging on about how the middle class have too many LCD TV’s. That kind of vision puts workers out of jobs but this doesn’t matter because we have such a fine welfare system.
    It was classic watching the fine citizens at The Standard pull for Cunliffe because Shearer made one speech ( the Gobshite on the Roof speech), extending alms to Waitakere Man and the small business owner. I doubt Cunliffe would have much truck with the Greens.Perhaps another Mike Moore?
    He’s poked if he stays within labour. They’ve still got to get through Robertson and Dolly before anyone considers Cunliffe a contender again.
    It’s of note that McCarten considers that Shearer is the corect leader for Labour. That tells where the socialist heart of the party is.

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  7. ChardonnayGuy (1,605 comments) says:

    Whatever. It’s over now, Shearer has prevailed and succeeded in a show of strength. Time to stop focusing on the peripherals and get on with policy focused decisions and related news coverage.

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  8. backster (2,513 comments) says:

    It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in February. Does every registered member of the party get an individual vote or do delegates put forth collective branch votes. Likewise the affiliated Unions does Helen Kelly vote for them all or does each have their own percentage of 20% vote. Seems to me Taito was perceptive, Clark’s legacy makes Robertson the winner.

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  9. bhudson (4,770 comments) says:

    No ChardonnayGuy. With the prescience that can only come from such sages as The Carpenters, “It’s only just begun…”

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  10. Matthew Hooton (195 comments) says:

    Yvette, I most certainly do mention Brian Edwards. Click the link David has provided and you’ll see what I have to say about him.

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  11. ChardonnayGuy (1,605 comments) says:

    Sorry, B. I hated the seventies and the awful pop musak was one contributing factor to that 🙂

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  12. Pete George (24,828 comments) says:

    Basckster – before it gets to a party vote 40% or more of caucus have to vote for a leadership contest, otherwise it won’t happen.

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  13. Yvette (3,027 comments) says:

    Matthew Hooton – OK, so you mentioned Brian Edwards, only gave a link and really said nothing of Brian’s views –

    A little bird (not David Cunliffe) has told me that in the run-up to today’s emergency caucus meeting a number of Labour MPs, probably a majority, were rung by David Shearer or one of his apparatchiks seeking a cast-iron guarantee that they would be supporting Shearer today and in the constitutionally mandatory confidence vote in February.

    This is both unethical and against Labour’s constitution.
    It makes nonsense of yesterday’s ‘unanimous’ vote.
    And it makes nonsense of the February vote. If a majority of Labour MPs have yielded to this monstrous piece of bullying, that vote has in effect already been taken.

    Should Shearer prove a disaster over the next three months those MPs who assured him of their support in February will have no choice but to stand by him, regardless of the damage this might do to the Party.
    And finally it makes nonsense of the most essential feature of any caucus vote on the leadership, that it is a secret ballot.
    Shearer now knows with reasonable certainty how each of his MPs intends to vote in the ‘secret’ February ballot.
    And there can be little doubt that there will be a witch-hunt if the vote is not heavily in his favour.

    Meanwhile, Cunliffe has been banned from talking to the media about what actually happened at yesterday’s emergency meeting. No-one in fact other than Shearer himself can say anything about what went on. Cunliffe has been charged, found guilty and silenced.
    So much for fairness.
    So much for openness and transparency.
    So much for Labour.

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  14. Matthew Hooton (195 comments) says:

    Yes Yvette, that is exactly the post I referred to. I called it marginally more cerebral but equally psychotic, compared with what is found on The Standard.

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  15. Reid (21,449 comments) says:

    I’m afraid I agree with Hooton here in his comment last Monday politics on RadioNZ to the effect that in Cunliffe his ego shines through, he just can’t help himself. It’s bursting.

    And you can see it on telly.

    So I’m personally really hoping he keeps trying to become Leader because he’ll never be accepted against Key, and neither will Shearer. It’s such fun. Watching the veteran warhorse battle battle the prancing, preening, rearing stallion while Key swims away, like the lucky little swan he is.

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  16. David Garrett (10,994 comments) says:

    There are many here with a lot more experience and smarts than me…but do any of you really believe Shearer will survive post February 2013??

    The man is toast…he should never have been put there in the first place….

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  17. Reid (21,449 comments) says:

    …he should never have been put there in the first place…

    None of them should have been David. Some fools fail to understand this and keep voting for them.

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  18. SPC (8,704 comments) says:

    Some months ago someone claimed that a third party was/is trying to cause Shearer-Cunliffe conflict.

    Then on 16 November they made a call for Shearer to resign so Cunliffe could take over. This presumably was submitted before any events on that Friday.

    Was he referring to himself in the linked article?

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