What would John Key have done in David Cunliffe’s position this week? Labour Party members must be asking themselves that question and they probably know the answer. Facing persistent questions on something he had denied, a more cautious leader would have suspected he might be wrong. Cunliffe could have said something such as, “I don’t recall ever assisting a residency application for Donghua Liu but in view of these questions I will check my records”.
That is not Cunliffe’s style, it sounds more like … David Shearer. Less than a year after Shearer relinquished the leadership, Labour’s prospects have gone from bad to worse. This week a Herald-DigiPoll survey found the party on 30 per cent, 20 points behind National. Polls the previous week for One News and 3 Newshad almost exactly the same figures. A fourth poll, published on Thursday, was worse. Labour had dropped to just over 23 per cent.
This is abysmal for a major party just three months out from an election.
Talking of polls, The Political Scientist looks at the Fairfax poll and finds the major trend is Labour voters going undecided. He looks at the support levels if you leave the undecideds in and it is National 44%, Labour 18%, Greens 9% and NZ First 2.5% with around 22% undecided.
The Labour core support is almost half that of November 2012.
Now that they are inside the three months, Labour MPs can change their leader if necessary without reference to the wider membership and affiliated unions whose votes put Cunliffe into the leadership last year. This week, Cunliffe said the Labour movement had a word for any such move against him. The caucus would have recognised that veiled reference to “scabs” as a rallying call to the unions and left-wing members. When its leader has to resort to that sort of talk, Labour is in disarray.
They can’t even release their party list on time, because they’re in crisis.
With no alternative leader coming forward, the party’s only hope is that Cunliffe can be an effective campaigner. There were signs in the leadership contest last year that he might be. His supreme confidence and his theatrical gestures could shine in television debates. But stubborn pride could be his undoing if it prevents him admitting uncertainty or conceding he could be wrong, as it did on the Liu letter this week.
I say he should stand firm, and keep refusing to apologise!