Indeed, if the three-year electoral cycle is likened to a three-lap middle-distance track race at the Olympics, then most of the other parties are currently jostling for room on the back straight before rounding the final bend for the sprint to the finish.
Meanwhile, Cunliffe-led Labour is still at the starting blocks, slowly taking off its dark-red tracksuit and planning nothing more taxing than an afternoon stroll.
Harsh. Not entirely false.
The opinion polls since have offered little succour. The party’s rating at just under 32 per cent in the latest Fairfax survey, which indicated National might be able to rule alone, is said to have had a chilling impact on the Labour caucus.
The continuing high levels of support for National are making a nonsense of the two absolutely essential tasks required of Cunliffe.
First, he has to build a mood for a change of Government when there is no sign of any such feeling abroad in the wider New Zealand electorate.
Second, Cunliffe has to persuade voters that Labour is the party that must be given a strong mandate to carry out change.
That would normally call for fresh ideas to excite voters. The problem for Labour is that the voters do not want to be excited and are happy with what is dubbed the “progressive conservatism” that is the hallmark of John Key.
As it is, Cunliffe has precious little to show from his five months in the job. A peaceful Labour Party conference and a comprehensive byelection victory in a safe Labour seat do not really count for much.
And the problems:
There is also a lack of urgency, which is failing to provide the momentum to keep Labour in the headlines for the right reasons – rather than trying to ping John Key for living in a “leafy suburb” when you do likewise.
Cunliffe has also been unlucky in losing his office chief of staff – an absolutely pivotal position.
Much speculation on who will take that job. It’s rare to have a vacancy in that role so close to an election.