Labour’s strategy is risky. It is challenging Liu’s honesty and integrity. He’s no doubt feeling aggrieved. The danger for Labour is that Liu produces documents, witnesses and photographs confirming his substantial donations.
That’s what did it for Winston Peters in 2008. Sir Owen Glenn was able to prove the donations that Peters denied.
It is a very high risk strategy.
So where are we now? Confused. Liu said he gave substantial money to the Labour Party. The Labour Party says it has no record of it, and hasn’t reported any donations from Liu.
But it’s quite possible that everyone is telling the truth. The money could have been stolen. That would mean Liu gave the money but Labour never received it. Charity auctions and the like are often chaotic and it is too easy to have no one properly in charge of recording and receipting all payments and donations. This is especially so in political events. Volunteers are enthusiastic but not necessarily experienced and politicians are anxious to stay well away from money changing hands.
Indeed, a big part of Cunliffe’s problem – and Banks’ and Williamson’s – is that politicians shy away from fundraising details precisely to avoid the perception that cash influences decision-making.
The safer course of action for the Labour Party would be to say it was treating the matter seriously. That would mean thanking Liu for coming forward with his information and inviting the police to investigate. The police could try to trace the money, letting Cunliffe off the hook. He would have done everything by the book. He would be open and upfront. It would also kill the story. He couldn’t comment while police were investigating.
But Labour didn’t do that. It denied and attacked.
There’s a reason politicians do the things they do. Cunliffe couldn’t be sure what the police would find. Calling in the police runs the risk of finding out more than Cunliffe wants to know.
Or they could have asked if their general secretary could meet with Liu, get details off him, and then try to work out what happened. But instead they have all but called him a liar, and I am unsure if that will end well.