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.
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 David Cunliffe. 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.