Andrea Vance writes:
In the fallout of the 2011 election defeat, Cunliffe, 50, rubbed salt further into the wounds by appearing to criticise Goff. And his position as the most unpopular member of caucus was cemented when he decided to run for leader when Goff stood down.
“I think it is fair to say that before ’08 people didn’t like him, but after ’08 he gave them reasons,” one former staffer said this week.
Cunliffe undermined Goff after the 2008 election loss but never challenged him outright. “With hindsight, he did a lot of it by omission rather than commission. He never said, ‘I want your job’, it was death by 1000 cuts.”
I know some former Labour staffers from that period, and they certainly are strongly of the view that Cunliffe was constantly undermining Goff. Of course he was far from the only one – so was Chris Carter.
A concerted smear campaign orchestrated by senior MPs Mr Goff, Annette King, Trevor Mallard and Clayton Cosgrove – known as the ABC (Anyone But Cunliffe) faction – ensured that relatively inexperienced Mt Albert MP David Shearer was elevated to the leadership.
Cunliffe’s reputation, as untrustworthy and conniving, stuck in the minds of media commentators and the wider public
But he has played the long hand.
Former Labour MP Judith Tizard, an early political mentor, says Cunliffe is “straightforward” and was not organising against Shearer. “People misunderstand David . . . He takes the view that if he gives his word then his word is given. And it would just stun and amaze him if somebody didn’t accept his word.
Judith Tizard was Cunliffe’s political mentor? Really?
A confidant puts the ostracising of Cunliffe, who graduated in the top 10 per cent of his Harvard class, down to jealousy.
“He has a brain the size of 50 planets, he must be the brightest guy I’ve ever met . . . there was a degree of the Kiwi knocking machine. It can be quite intimidating for some people to be around that. He never really learned to dumb it down for a New Zealand context.”
And if he wins, as expected, he will be formidable.
Yes, he has an unfortunate habit of coming across as smug, or smarmy, when captured on camera. An infamous video clip shows him addressing an Avondale market crowd in a fake Polynesian accent.
Critics point out he lives in a $2m mansion in one of Auckland’s most exclusive streets, while railing against “money trader” Key.
At times he has wrestled with his ego, and seemed slightly obsessed with his public image, although his demotion appears to have taught him to project humility.
What’s that old saying – once you can fake sincerity you have it made in politics
Williams, who came out in support of Cunliffe earlier this week, says he can’t fathom the antipathy. “The people up close to him like him . . . He’s a normal family man. I have never been exposed to these character shortcomings that I keep hearing about.”
To be fair, neither have I. I worked a bit with Cunliffe when he was ICT/Comms Minister and found him excellent to work with, and he achieved a lot of good stuff. However the sheer number of other people who have said they have different experiences suggests there can’t be that much smoke without some fire.
Most agree Cunliffe would face an uphill struggle trying to win the trust and genuine support of many openly hostile MPs. It would be unwise to root out strong performers who are not yet on his side, the ex-adviser cautions. “I don’t think he can afford to do utu with anybody. His supporters are hardly the stellar operators.
This is a key point. Of the top 10 Labour MPs, none are backing Cunliffe. In the next 10, only three are backing him. So Cunliffe has the backing of just three out of 20 in the Shadow Cabinet. Almost all his support is from those outside the Shadow Cabinet. If he wins, some of them will have to be promoted.
Tags: David Cunliffe