The battle getting heated

Tracy Watkins at Stuff writes:

The numbers are being done daily, the lead changes depending which camp you talk to, and the gloves are well and truly off in the race.

Warring between David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson supporters spilled into the public arena yesterday, after MP Clare Curran accused Cunliffe supporters of using Mr Robertson’s sexuality as a mark against him. She singled out “Leftwingers” in the party and accused them of “dog whistle” politics for suggesting New Zealand was not ready for a gay prime minister.

Very disappointing if some Labour members are doing that.

However Grant did himself no favours by hiding his partner from the camera in the pub, and denying he was even there, when he was. That shows he himself does think it is a factor.

Some feathers within the party have been ruffled, meanwhile, by Robertson supporters pushing the line there will be an exodus of the party’s rising stars if Mr Cunliffe wins – seen as an attempt to exert pressure on the outcome.

On a different front, the picture over second preferences of the third candidate, Shane Jones, is getting increasingly murky after Mr Cunliffe believed he had been promised them, and Mr Jones denied that.

However, there are rumours that some of Mr Jones’ supporters are openly encouraging his backers to give their second preference to Mr Cunliffe, despite those denials.

In other words, the fog of war has well and truly descended over the Labour leadership race and you can no longer be sure who is telling the truth.

I think there is no doubt Robertson will win a plurality of the Labour caucus votes over Cunliffe. But by my reckoning they do not have a majority and how the six or so Jones voters assign their second preferences will be important. I have two thirds of them going for Cunliffe at the moment leaving it 18 – 16 Robertson-Cunliffe after preferences.

According to some MPs, for instance, the numbers in the caucus remain rock solid behind Mr Robertson at a “solid 18, and probably 20”. Others suggest some of those previously rock solid numbers have crossed to either Mr Jones or Mr Cunliffe.

Still others suggest that the second preferences of Mr Jones’ supporters will swing the caucus vote Mr Cunliffe’s way.

The unions, meanwhile, are split, although a number of small ones have endorsed Mr Cunliffe.

All four of the smaller unions have endorsed Cunliffe. They only make up a third of the union vote. However I am assuming the SWFU members will favour Cunliffe, while most EPMU delegates will vote Robertson. Overall though Cunliffe should win the union vote. My current spreadsheet (which is highly speculative) has Cunliffe get 48%, Robertson 39% and Jones 13%, and then Cunliffe 56% to Robertson 44%.

If you combine that with the caucus vote then Robertson has 30.1% overall and Cunliffe 29.9%. Whomever wins the members vote should win overall unless Robertson can pick up more than 18 votes in caucus.

What it all adds up to is a party as divided over the leadership as ever – and as the election across the Tasman proved, that is not a place where Labour wants to be at the end of this race.

Some Camp Robertson people refer to David Cunliffe as David Ruddliffe 🙂

UPDATE: Things are going from warm to boiling. Duncan Garner writes:

Cunliffe’s nose may just be ahead – but it’s not over: Robertson’s people won’t give up; they seriously dislike Cunliffe, they really do.

They really really do.

I have spoken to a number of Labour MPs in recent days who openly despise Cunliffe. The hatred and bile towards him has not subsided. It actually seems to have got stronger and louder in the final stretch of this race.

One senior MP in the Robertson camp described him to me over the weekend as “an insincere prat” who is “a fake that would be shown up bloody quickly”. Others have described him in similar terms. You get the point.

So what does this mean if Cunliffe wins:

If Cunliffe wins, he will win with just a third of the caucus support. That is unprecedented in NZ politics. Leaders always enjoy the support of at least 50% of their caucus. It’s how politics works.

It means that 20 odd MPs in a caucus of 34 will have voted against Cunliffe becoming leader. Astonishing isn’t it? How sustainable is that?

Grab the popcorn – it ain’t over yet.

The theory I’m now hearing is they give Cunliffe six to nine months if he wins, and if things implode then they roll him and Jones is put up as leader unopposed for the election. Assuming he doesn’t win, then you get Robertson take over after the election. Machiavelli would be proud!

UPDATE: Cunliffe has stood Jenny Michie down from his campaign team for her cements on The Nation. They seemed pretty innocuous to me.

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