Tracy Watkins writes:
In the old days he would have been gone already.
Tuesday’s brutalising caucus was a coup in all but name. It showed Cunliffe no longer has any authority over his caucus, who can outvote him at will. They already have, over his choice of Whip.
A leader who can’t control his caucus or win a vote cannot credibly front National as the Leader of the Opposition. But under Labour’s rules a coup is no longer a simple numbers game in the caucus.
If it were, Cunliffe’s rival Grant Robertson would already be leader.
He has had the numbers to roll Cunliffe for more than a year.
Yep. But even if there was not the issue of a membership vote, Robertson is wary of having a non unified party behind him.
Robertson’s supporters could force a vote of no confidence in Cunliffe, but that effectively puts the decision in the hands of the wider party and Labour’s union affiliates. In a vote, they could decide to re-install Cunliffe over a hostile caucus. They did so the last time the leadership was put to the vote, a year ago.
Whether they would do so again after the chaotic scenes of recent days remains to be seen. Camp Cunliffe are convinced they would.
It appears Camp Robertson are not sure enough of their ground yet to put it to the test. Otherwise they would have forced the confidence vote on Tuesday and got the leadership ball rolling.
That suggests Cunliffe may have sufficient leverage still to negotiate a dignified exit – one that would give him a senior role in Robertson’s caucus, with no loss of face for him or his supporters. Neither side was talking up that option yesterday.
But wise heads are surely counselling both sides that the last thing Labour wants on top of its humiliating election loss and this week’s damaging fallout is a divisive and draining leadership race.
I think it would be silly for Cunliffe to contest the leadership, as he clearly has lost the confidence of his caucus.
However I think it would be better for Grant to have a party wide leadership contest, between himself and David Shearer.
Grant would win, but it would allow the party to unify behind him, as they will have had their say. He may face sniping from activists and left bloggers if he is put in by caucus with no say from members.
Also Grant is well to the left of Shearer. It would be help unify the party to have a clear centrist and a clear left candidate, as once their choice is made, people can respect the direction the party will then take.