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Robertson vs. Cunliffe

grant Robertson and David Cunliffe

By Duncan Garner, RadioLIVE Drive host  

Despite all the hype about Shane Jones – he’s not really in the race to lead the party.

He’s been loud, colourful, funny, in touch and verbose. He’s re-established himself within his caucus. He will hold down some sort of senior front-bench position in the coming weeks.

But telling Grant Robertson’s supporters to back him is just mischief-making. And he knows it.

They won’t listen.

The real fight – as it always was - is between David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson.

The caucus, led by an increasingly strong anti-Cunliffe brigade, is backing Robertson. Because it makes up 40% of the final vote, this gives Robertson a strong start.

The unions, though, seem to mainly back Cunliffe. But at 20% of the final vote – it’s not quite as influential as the caucus share.

That leaves the party members to vote on who will be leader.

Cunliffe’s nose may just be ahead – but it’s not over: Robertson’s people won’t give up; they seriously dislike Cunliffe, they really do.

They really really do.

I have spoken to a number of Labour MPs in recent days who openly despise Cunliffe. The hatred and bile towards him has not subsided. It actually seems to have got stronger and louder in the final stretch of this race.

One senior MP in the Robertson camp described him to me over the weekend as "an insincere prat" who is "a fake that would be shown up bloody quickly". Others have described him in similar terms. You get the point.

Most in the Robertson camp are unimpressed at Cunliffe’s over the top launch. Robertson supporters have also told me it’s no surprise that the current deputy leader is third in the public polls because he’s the least well known.

They say that gives him time to introduce himself to the country and build momentum.

That’s clutching at straws – no politician in any race wants to be third – and Grant will be hit hard by the weekend polls showing him trailing Cunliffe and Jones.

So it’s game on and it’s getting increasingly dirty. Jones’s second preference votes are now crucial – they will help decide this. But the main takeaway from this race is how openly divided this caucus is.

And they’re talking about their divisions in front of the country.

If Cunliffe becomes leader a number of careers will end.

Trevor Mallard and Clayton Cosgrove are well known life-members of the anti-Cunliffe club. Annette King may call time on her long career too.

I actually think this primary has been useful and whoever takes on John Key will be stronger than David Shearer. But that leader has a massive job to do in the caucus.

Caucus is openly bleeding and the weeping sores are there for all to see.

If Cunliffe wins, he will win with just a third of the caucus support. That is unprecedented in NZ politics. Leaders always enjoy the support of at least 50% of their caucus. It’s how politics works.

It means that 20 odd MPs in a caucus of 34 will have voted against Cunliffe becoming leader. Astonishing isn’t it? How sustainable is that?

Grab the popcorn – it ain’t over yet.

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