Cunliffe's first task: heal the divisions
TRACY WATKINS AND ANDREA VANCE
New Labour leader David Cunliffe is expected to make moves today to heal a divided caucus, including sounding out his rivals for key positions.
Cunliffe yesterday won the leadership with the overwhelming backing of Labour's union affiliates and rank-and-file members, but could struggle to unite the caucus after failing to win over a majority of MPs.
After a two-week-long leadership primary, Mr Cunliffe won with 51 per cent support, compared with Grant Robertson on 32.97 per cent and Shane Jones on 15.88 per cent.
He got over the line thanks largely to a big push from the unions, with 70 per cent of delegates backing him, and the rank-and-file, who also backed him by a clear majority.
But if the vote had been held under Labour's old rules, Mr Cunliffe would have lost out to Mr Robertson, who had the backing of a majority of MPs.
The caucus vote was closer than expected, however, suggesting some MPs either switched sides late, or kept a foot in both camps until the very end.
Rank outsider Jones emerged from the race rehabilitated and likely to pick up a senior portfolio.
He confirmed last night that he gave his second preference to Cunliffe and warned that it was time for the warring factions in caucus to unite.
Robertson immediately resigned the deputy leadership last night in a show of good faith.
But that was expected to be the first job put on the table today, with Cunliffe signalling he would like Robertson to stay on in the role.
As expected, he also extended an olive branch by signalling that other front-bench positions would be offered to Robertson supporters.
He indicated he was unlikely to want the finance portfolio, suggesting it would be retained by David Parker.
Robertson said Cunliffe had his "100 per cent loyalty as leader".
"I am absolutely confident that caucus will back him . . . I do not expect that any member of caucus will undermine David Cunliffe . . . I believe it is essential that the Labour caucus draws a line under everything that has happened in the last few years."
Ousted leader David Shearer said he would be "right behind David Cunliffe all the way".
Shearer's leadership was dogged by infighting and he demoted Cunliffe last year for running a destabilising campaign against him. He stepped down last month after Robertson supporters circulated a no-confidence motion which they expected to win.
Shearer said he was hoping for a senior position in Cunliffe's new lineup.
Mr Cunliffe said yesterday his leadership represented a new beginning for Labour and "all those New Zealanders who currently don't have a voice".
He rejected suggestions he would be leading a divided caucus.
"This is not a split caucus, this is a united caucus who are going to go on and win the 2014 election."
The leadership primary saw the leading contenders, Mr Cunliffe and Mr Robertson, position the party further to the Left than under Mr Shearer, promising to raise taxes and repeal a raft of employment laws, as well as introduce a "living wage" of $18.40 an hour.
Mr Cunliffe said yesterday he did not resile from those promises.
Former Labour Party president Mike Williams, who endorsed Mr Cunliffe in the final week of the leadership run, said his support was higher than expected, even within the caucus. He believed some MPs waited till the very last minute to vote and some may have also switched camps.
Mr Cunliffe should now take some time selecting his team and installing the right people in key positions, Mr Williams said.
"I wouldn't be rushing into it if I was him."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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