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Labour factions alive - and kicking

David Cunliffe

By Duncan Garner, RadioLIVE Drive host  

It’s abundantly clear David Cunliffe is in charge of a divided, wounded and openly factionalised party.

He had to walk a careful line with his reshuffle yesterday because of that – and he did so pretty well. But it really does prove how seriously factionalised Labour is.

Annette King, Phil Goff and Clayton Cosgrove are firmly on the centre-right of the party up against the Cunliffe, Sue Moroney, Louisa Wall and Moana Mackey on the left of the party.

I remember two conversations about this topic a few years ago. I was with Guyon Espiner and we were winding up Annette King about how divided the two factions were. She laughed back at us and said they weren’t so much factions but ‘social groupings.’ Not only did we laugh the longest and the loudest but she made no attempt to deny the two factions were alive and kicking – each other.

Again - and I think this was after the 1999 election – a senior Labour MP, also a long time reliable source, told me how Helen Clark would appoint her Cabinet. The source told me she would be presented with the names of likely Ministers from both factions; she would go through them, make a few calls and appoint them to Cabinet roles.

It’s why she ended up with people she did not overly like or have confidence in; people like Dover Samuels. Remember she sacked him and ended bringing him back into a role outside Cabinet? It’s the right and left of the party pulling their own strings, for their own benefits. And it was all laid bare again last night in Tova O’Brien’s story on 3 News.

She asked Annette King this question: How have you been able to move on so swiftly?

Annette: ‘In politics you have to be realistic.’

Again, King is not denying the factions, just confirming she’s having to deal with them.

So Cunliffe has swept into the top job on the back of the left-wing of the party. The centre-left members and unions clearly wanted him. But because of the way this party works - he simply couldn’t go in there and ditch his enemies on the centre-right. I’m sure he would have loved to, but he couldn’t.

This party is split down the middle – he needs both sides to work together. But there is a real warning here: The public aren’t fooled. They need to see that this party can work together. These factions need to heal; they need to gel.

They need to present themselves as an alternative Government. They also need to present themselves as having fresh talent. They are still a long way from that.

Promoting Annette King – whom I have always liked and got on with - to number 4 is odd. King is the old guard. Labour’s highest ranked woman? Really? It’s the wrong message.

Trevor Mallard also needs to be sent a direct and public message from Cunliffe that his time is up. How out of touch does it look for Mallard – who represents the poor and working-poor of Hutt South and Wainuiomata – to be on NZ’s longest junket in San Fransisco? It’s not good enough – no matter who approved it.

How much is this costing NZ taxpayers? And do ordinary working Kiwis get indefinite leave from their workplace to watch sporting events? No and no.

So Cunliffe is at pains to point out the Anyone-But-Cunliffe-Club has become the All-Behind-Cunliffe-Club. He can say it all he likes, but Kiwis aren’t fooled.

He’s asking his caucus to do what he has refused to do for years: Be loyal to the leader of the day. That takes time. He will need to earn their respect – it needs to be seen and believed and then voters will start to engage with Labour again; it’s a big ask.

It’s a long road – but he started well yesterday.

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