Pundits on Cunliffe

March 8th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

must be kicking himself he didn’t just fund his own way into the party’s top job.

The Cunliffe household – lawyer Karen Price and Opposition leader David – would pull in a combined income of at least $500,000 a year. Writing a campaign cheque for $20,000 to cover last year’s leadership campaign would not have stretched the family’s finances one iota.

Instead he had his campaign manager rattle the tin for him resulting in about $20,000 of anonymous donations being laundered through a secret trust.

$20,000 is a decent amount of cash, but affordable. The median household income is $70,000 so it is the equivalent of $3,000 for a median household.

Cunliffe has been battling the stench of hypocrisy since the use of a secret campaign trust to launder leadership campaign donations from five donors was disclosed.

It’s not surprising that wealthy businessmen such as Tony Gibbs and Selwyn Pellett tossed some of their chump change into Cunliffe’s leadership campaign trust.

He’s a known quantity. He’s personable. Many business people like him even if some are deeply wary about just what changes will occur under a Labour-led government because Cunliffe sometimes says one thing in public and something very different to them in private.

This is the interesting thing. The donations were from wealthy businessmen, not from unions, social justice campaigners and the like.

The episode underlines Cunliffe’s essential political duality. He relies on secret donations from wealthy supporters to fund a campaign which positions himself as a man of the people. 

Tracy Watkins goes down this path also:

The great enigma about David Cunliffe has always been how someone so smart managed to make so many enemies among his own colleagues.

He is by many accounts a caring boss and doesn’t take himself so seriously that he can’t laugh at himself.

The schemozzle surrounding the Labour leader in recent days probably helps explain the unease of those among his colleagues who opposed his leadership bid.  Cunliffe’s biggest critics have always complained about a lack of self awareness as his potentially fatal flaw.  

That is what causes him to swing from a caricature of himself as a gun-slinging troubleshooter to working class hero, who forgets along the way that he also lives in one of Auckland’s swankiest suburbs, Herne Bay.

David is smart, and for my 2c I’ve always found him likeable. He performed well as a Minister in the previous Government, and I could never work out why so many of his colleagues were so anti him. I think Watkins is right when she says it is the lack of self awareness.

That tough talking would likely reinforce the message that Cunliffe’s wounds so far are all self-inflicted and that he would be well advised to reflect on the old adage that it’s never the mistake that gets you, it’s the cover up. 

This is so true, time and time again.

What  Cunliffe shouldn’t do is circle the wagons as some of his more one-eyed supporters outside Parliament would have him do by insisting that everything he did was legal and above board and his woes the product of a smear campaign.

Which he is now doing. He’s now blaming it all on the National Party. It’s a dumb strategy as these issues were all pursued by the media on their own initiative and calling it a National Party smear insults the media involved as it implies they are too stupid and lazy to dig these stories up on their own initiative.

Setting up a trust to take anonymous donations to his leadership campaign was clearly wildly contradictory to Labour’s rhetoric over secret trusts when applied to National and John Banks.

The uncomfortable parallels with Banks were apparently spelt out to Cunliffe by some of his MPs.

It was probably not something that occurred to his close friend and lawyer Greg Presland, who was no doubt more concerned with legal boundaries than political ones when he set up the trust on Cunliffe’s behalf.

It’s not as if Presland is just a lawyer though. He is an elected local government official, long time party activist and prominent blogger.

It was also Presland who advised Cunliffe as his lawyer that he didn’t need to declare an investment trust on the MPs’ register of pecuniary interests, though Cunliffe later did so after advice from the registrar that ‘‘when in doubt, declare it’’.

What’s baffling is why Cunliffe thought he needed legal advice at all on which of his assets and financial interests should be declared.  The starting point for any politician would surely be disclose everything, hide nothing.

That is a very good starting point. It is not as if you have to disclose the value of the investments. It’s just the name.

Mike Hosking weighs in:

As we end the week he now has himself a major credibility problem. Go back two weeks and they had themselves a poll that showed they had trouble. National had 51, Labour stalled on 30, and ever since then Cunliffe hasn’t done a thing to change that. In fact it will be interesting to see the next series of polls because it’s possible he’s done a bit to make it worse.

The best case scenario is that all this stuff is what they call beltway stuff – stuff that fascinates the Press Gallery but no one else. Worst case scenario is that a growing number of people are seriously questioning whether he’s up to it.

This could not have played better for the Government. They wanted to label Cunliffe and they came up with ‘tricky’. Its short, it’s sharp, it’s effective. They came up with tricky after the baby bonus, which not only gave money to people who didn’t need money but actually didn’t give money to as many as they said it would. This was Cunliffe’s first major blow.

The problem is he’s compounded it with mistake after mistake, followed by back down after back down. The problem with the problem is once it starts, in the game of politics it’s hard to break. A reputation  is formed and it follows you wherever you go. You become a target.

Hosking is right that once a brand is set, it is hard to break. I’m surprised Labour didn’t have a strategy to pro-actively set their own brand for Cunliffe for the first four to six months before he was elected. Six major speeches to define him – each with new ideas, and clear policy positioning.

Toby Manhire also writes:

No one could reasonably begrudge David Shearer about now were he to lean back on his chaise lounge, log on to his New York bank account and let out a sigh of relief. A text message might arrive on his phone, from Phil Goff, saying something like, “Show me the money!” The series of mishaps that have befallen their successor as Labour leader, David Cunliffe, the very man whose supporters made their own tenures difficult, bears out Helen Clark’s observation that Leader of the Opposition is “the hardest job in politics”. In the past fortnight, however, the unmistakable impression is that it is Cunliffe who is making it hard.

It is a tough job, but as Manhire says there has been a series of blunders (I’m up to 10 this year already) that are totally self-inflicted. To be fair to Cunliffe, the fault is not his alone. There is meant to be a team behind the leader.

Part of the strength of Project Tricky is that it prods ceaselessly at a nerve within the Labour caucus itself. The persistent whispered complaint from Cunliffe’s colleagues is that they still don’t really know who he is. Is he for real, is he authentic? It’s not an easy one to square and, paradoxically, the strident speeches of recent months have only added to that puzzlement. He has, at least, demonstrated a humility some of his colleagues claim not to have seen previously, in admitting errors and lapses of judgment in the past fortnight. It’s just that there have been rather too many admissions, too many lapses.

The best way to win the backing of colleagues, of course, is straightforward. Comradely affection will climb in direct proportion to poll numbers. 

Heh, this is true.

Perhaps the most telling slip by Cunliffe in recent weeks came in an interview last week in which he said that the Government was clearly going to change – “it’s either going to change this time or next time”. Gulp. He’s scrambled since to emphasise that Labour is full-throttle for 2014 victory, but it nonetheless feeds a creeping sense that a number of people within his caucus have in large part given up, deliberately or not, on a Labour-led government in 2014.

That was a significant statement.

The political Grim Reaper has been stalking the blue halls of the Beehive, with 14 National MPs having left or signalled already that they will not seek re-election. Labour, by contrast, has had only one MP, Ross Robertson, announce retirement, leaving them facing a crisis of “bed blocking” – a term that was borrowed from hospital wards to describe the geriatric UK Conservative MPs who refused to budge during their long Opposition stint last decade.

Somehow, Cunliffe’s team needs to persuade the dead wood of the Labour benches that their day is done, that they should embrace the many joys of retirement For The Sake Of The Party. And with a general election looking increasingly likely to take place in September, they haven’t got long to do it.

You look at the new talent coming through in National such as Shane Reti, and contrast it to the hold ons in Labour from the 1990s and even 1980s.

Finally John Armstrong gives some sage advice: The summary is

  • Rebuild Cunliffe’s image as a credible and competent leader – and quickly
  • Give Cunliffe the ammunition to make voters sit up and take notice of him
  • Talk the economy up – not down
  • Start talking solutions – not problems
  • Up the work rate
  • Send out a search party to find David Parker
  • Leave the personal attacks on John Key for someone else

Or maybe for the last one, don’t do them at all.

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29 Responses to “Pundits on Cunliffe”

  1. Zebulon (124 comments) says:

    They need to bring Goff back. One of the reasons for toppling him was his low poll rating – but look at Helen Clark – she also polled low but then achieved a high level of political success. Bill English failed but was later resurrected and became successful. Goff comes across as intelligent, a moderate who can appeal to the centre, and as someone who is not full of himself. He would be a good leader and Labour doesn’t have many of those. He is what Labour needs if they actually want to get into government and if they want to stay there for more than 1 term. Cunliffe hasn’t got “it”.

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  2. Colville (2,298 comments) says:

    Interesting to see the media wanting to be on the right side of history when it happens.
    Obviously more than a few of them have had conversations with members of the ABCs and they know the hand brake is on full and they are setting Cun*liffe up for a massive fall.

    Fantastic thing for us (and the Nats :-) ) is that the ABCs are all dead wood that should have been cut and stacked outside years ago. Next Leader up (Robertson) will have the same drones to drag him into the mire.

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  3. Yoza (1,903 comments) says:

    Zebulon (47 comments) says:
    March 8th, 2014 at 11:07 am

    They need to bring Goff back.

    It does appear the membership will not allow any ‘Rogernomes’ assent to the leadership. It looks like Cunliffe is as far-right as the membership is willing to tolerate.

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  4. Manolo (14,018 comments) says:

    Succinctly put: Silent T is a fraud.

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  5. Ross12 (1,453 comments) says:

    Everyone keeps saying Cunliffe bright/intelligent/smart. This last week shows no evidence of any of those traits.

    He maybe academically intelligent but in the real world of the cut and thrust of politics ( or the business world) that is not enough. “Street smarts’ can be just as, if not more important. Cunliffe does not have any street smarts from what I can see.

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  6. davidp (3,587 comments) says:

    Did Cunliffe pay tax on the income from the secret trust? Surely it must have been due, otherwise we’d all structure our affairs so that we funneled our income through trusts.

    I suspect the two donors who want to remain nameless are embarrassed to have helped get this muppet elected as leader. They’re probably scared that Labour supporters will give them a good kicking for helping to saddle them with the opposition’s biggest liability.

    I take great joy that the extra percent or two of the vote that may give National an absolute majority is down to the incompetence of Greg Presland. Maybe after the election we could send him a thank you note and a bottle of wine?

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  7. Reid (16,621 comments) says:

    Silent T is a fraud

    And he always has been, since his earliest days in his first job and it’s what’s got him where he is. Thus he can’t hide it, it’s part of his DNA. And that is why, the more people see of him, the less they like him.

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  8. wat dabney (3,805 comments) says:

    It looks like Cunliffe is as far-right as the membership is willing to tolerate.

    The membership will be happy with whoever lets them successfully plunder the workers of New Zealand.

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  9. Barnsley Bill (983 comments) says:

    Two questions that remain to be asked and answered by the media;
    1. When Presland set up these dodgy trusts. Both the investment cloaking one and the laundering donations one. Did he charge and get paid or do we have an undeclared donation to talk about?
    And question 2.
    What did he spend the 20k on? These clowns travel like minor royalty on the public tit, I cannot see why they would need to spend any money.

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  10. iMP (2,416 comments) says:

    That was a pretty hard-hitting one-on-one with Gower on the Nation this morning, but Cunliffe handled it pretty well, genuinely upfront, and made it in the heated kitchen (to quite political parlance of the month). The jamie Wyte piece following it was also revealing. Again the Incest/polygamy stuff. As Jordan of tax payers Union said, “he’s still got his political trainer wheels on.”

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  11. BeaB (2,141 comments) says:

    I still want to know what the money was spent on.

    Whatever, Cunliffe is not a man NZers will ever like. And he is up against a man just about everyone likes.

    Labour voters will grit their teeth and stay loyal or else they will stay home on election day.

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  12. Than (487 comments) says:

    It looks like Cunliffe is as far-right as the membership is willing to tolerate.

    And this is too far-left for swing-voters in the center to tolerate. These two conditions would combine to make Labour unelectable.

    But I don’t think we really know how far-left or -right Cunliffe is. His habit of telling each audience what they want to hear means his statements tell us nothing about his personal political views. I suspect his main ideology is “far-ambitious”, with political direction less important to him than personal advancement.

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  13. kiwi in america (2,508 comments) says:

    Mike Hosking also ended on this perfect zinger “But Cunliffe looks to be in the Rowling/McLay/Palmer camp”

    Ouch!

    Yoza detailing Cunliffe as far right as he lurches further to the left tells us all we need to know about where Yoza sits on the political spectrum.

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  14. dime (10,086 comments) says:

    Bed Blockers! I like that. I shall remember to use that term during my weekly abusive tweets to labour fuck ups :D

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  15. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    If “Tojo” was looked upon by the Labour movement as an intelligent, fiscally literate person, they must be very disenchanted now. Along with his irresponsible and immoral spokesman on finance Parker (who not only stuffed up a small business big-time, but ruined his business partner), they must be wondering what to do next . . . bet the rainbow room is buzzing with gaggle talk!

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  16. niggly (831 comments) says:

    “It looks like Cunliffe is as far-right as the membership is willing to tolerate.”

    Yoza – but Cunliffe’s natural setting at heart is a righty with some leftist inclings (like say social justice, although maybe that’s partially due to settling down with his partner etc, which is fair enough), but in essence he’s somewhat of a pretend “lefty” in sheep’s clothing, so why on earth would the membership fall for someone like him as leader? What does it say of them and their efforts (including white-anting previous leaders)?

    Now we’re seeing the fruits of this conflicting persona – lot’s of misjudgements and two-sides of the mouth talking – which is catching him out with Left and Right (but again not that membership, just seems bizzare)?

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  17. wikiriwhis business (4,111 comments) says:

    Political conniving, deception, lying we all know goes on is the grandest argument for sin short of out right genocide

    And is far more insidious as it continuous irregardless of party in power

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  18. niggly (831 comments) says:

    Cunliffe’s membership backers fit your description of insidious and continuous then WikiB, so not only are they deluded they are also dangerous (and must be kept away from the levers of power – yes?)! This Mickey savage guy can’t be a good guy eh?! And what an insult to the real one!

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  19. anticorruptionnz (215 comments) says:

    I have updated my blog site on secret trusts http://www.anticorruption.co.nz/2014/03/07/secret-trusts/

    I found case law which states that “Unincorporated bodies are lawful but legally non-existent.”

    the case law sets out very well how it works and it comes does down to the fact that it is the trustees of the trust who are answerable.

    Cunliffe, Brown etc have an obligation to name the legally existent persons involved in their donations not the unidentifiable nondescript name these people choose to use for their legally “non existent” trust

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  20. Jack5 (5,144 comments) says:

    So Toby Manhire wrote in the Hooerald yesterday:

    No one could reasonably begrudge David Shearer about now were he to lean back on his chaise lounge…

    Manhire is a prominent journalist, a former editor of the Guardian comments page, and is the son of a poet who became a lecturer in creative writing. Manhire is also a columnist on the Leftist magazine, the Listener.

    When you adopt a foreign-language term, it pays to take the whole expression, not bastardise it into half-English. Manhire is talking about Shearer leaning back on a chaise longue, not a “chaise lounge”. The name is French for “long chair”. The “longue” means “long”, not lounge. Here’s a dictionary definition of this piece of furniture:

    A couchlike chair with a seat long enough to support the outstretched legs.

    A chaise longue would have been handy for Auckland’s Mayor, Bonker Brown.

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  21. Peter (1,723 comments) says:

    “finance Parker (who not only stuffed up a small business big-time, but ruined his business partner”

    What were the details?

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  22. Tinshed (170 comments) says:

    Here’s another thing that has bothered me about why Cunliffe didn’t fund his own campaign – or at least significantly contribute to it. The base salary for an ordinary backbencher is currently $147,800 which I assume is about what he would have been receiving as a backbencher. The Leader of the Opposition gets the same salary as a Cabinet Minister which is $268,500. That’s a huge increase he would have received on becoming Leader Of The Opposition. I would have thought it was worth spending your own money for the chance at a salary increase like that. Still, it is not about that is it? It’s about spending other people’s money and hoping you don’t need to declare whose those people are. Tricky.

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  23. OneTrack (3,204 comments) says:

    DPF – “David is smart, ..”

    People keep saying this but I am struggling to see any evidence. Is that what it said on his CV?

    Idiot and crook seem more informative descriptions.

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  24. backster (2,183 comments) says:

    “I still want to know what the money was spent on.”

    Bea, I think it would have been required for hospitality, especially of union officials who held the crucial voting power. additionally a modicum of koha may have been required to cement agreements reached…I am surprised that Shane didn’t realize the need for such and approach, while Grant, who mixes with different types, may not have appreciated such an approach.

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  25. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Peter: Goes back to when Clark sacked him, at the time he was an aspiring future Labour leader, but he lied about the whole sordid affair. It will be in Hansard, also media archives. It showed him up for what he is.

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  26. dave_c_ (223 comments) says:

    Nothing but a narcissist with no morals !

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  27. unitedtribes (30 comments) says:

    Has anyone got a good word for this man?

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  28. DJP6-25 (1,389 comments) says:

    unitedtribes 5.36 pm. No.

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  29. Warren Murray (312 comments) says:

    KIA – Rowling, and Palmer at least became PM and McLay is NZ’s ambassador to the UN, so it seems even epic losers are role models for Cunliffe.

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