Cunliffe: 'It's extremely close'

Last updated 10:00 13/12/2011

MATCH UP: David Shearer, left, and David Cunliffe are contesting the Labour Party leadership.

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David Cunliffe has entered the Labour leadership vote denying his rival has the numbers to win.

Cunliffe entered the meeting in the last few minutes and stopped to talk to reporters on the way in saying media reports that Shearer had the numbers were wrong. 

The final vote between contenders David Cunliffe and David Shearer comes down to Labour MPs in a caucus meeting which started at 9.45am today.

"I'm saying that it's extremely close."

It would come down to one or two votes either way, he said.

"We are feeling optimistic, we've had lots of support from around the country. We'd just like to say a big thank you all of those Labour people and members of the public that have offered such fantastic support."

Shane Jones, meanwhile, was keeping his cards close as he headed into the meeting.

Jones, a publicly undecided member of the labour caucus, said he had decided who he would vote for but would make his vote in private.

"I'm going to vote for David."

He said he had talked with Labour supporters in Maori electorate Tamaki Makaurau before making his decision.

However, the Maori caucus was united behind Cunliffe's nominated deputy Nanaia Mahuta, he said. 

Cunliffe may be pinning his hopes on pressure from local electorates to swing the Labour leadership his way, with Shearer last night appearing to have the numbers in the bag.


But whoever wins will face a huge task to reunify the caucus, which is deeply split between Mr Shearer's overwhelmingly Pakeha supporters and the heavy Maori and Pasifika backing for Mr Cunliffe.

Soundings by Fairfax Media suggested Mr Shearer has at least 18 votes - the number he will need to carry today's 34-member caucus meeting.

Each is planning a radically new lineup, to show a clear break with both the Helen Clark and Phil Goff eras.

Mr Goff and his deputy Annette King have said they will stay on in Parliament, but are certain to be moved off the front bench.

There has been ill feeling on both sides, with the Cunliffe camp pointing fingers at Goff staffers for running a smear campaign against their man.

Meanwhile, Mr Shearer is reaping support from those motivated by deep personal dislike for Mr Cunliffe, known as the anyone but Cunliffe (ABC) camp, who have blamed him for not pulling his weight during the campaign.

Mr Cunliffe said he was feeling "very positive" ahead of today's vote.

"There is no substance to the myths propagated in the past two weeks".

But he accepted he needed "to spend some patient time" with one or two colleagues.

Soundings by Fairfax Media suggested Mr Shearer has at least 18 votes - the number he will need to carry today's 34-member caucus meeting.

Mr Shearer said he was "quietly confident, but it's not over till it's over".

Asked if electorate meetings last night could change votes, he said: "Views seem to be solidifying one day out, but I am not ruling it out."

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Mr Cunliffe has performed well during six regional meetings and insiders say he has dominated the question and answer sessions.

Mr Shearer is seen as more hesitant and less polished, but his backers say Labour needs a fresh face and he has greater appeal to "cross-over" voters.

Mr Shearer said his rival had been in politics longer so it was not surprising he was more polished.

"But the next election is not going to be won or lost in front of members tomorrow."

Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson is set to be deputy and list MP David Parker is tipped to take the finance role, although Mr Shearer has refused to be drawn on which jobs he will hand out.

List MPs Jacinda Ardern will possibly be ranked as high as three.If Mr Cunliffe achieves an upset victory, Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta is his preferred deputy. The previously low- profile Ms Mahuta has impressed at the regional meetings.

Likely votes

FOR DAVID SHEARER: David Shearer, David Parker, Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, Phil Goff, Annette King, Clayton Cosgrove, Kris Faafoi, Maryan Street, Chris Hipkins, Clare Curran, Phil Twyford, Darien Fenton, Trevor Mallard, Damien O'Connor, David Clark, Iain Lees- Galloway, Ruth Dyson.

FOR DAVID CUNLIFFE: David Cunliffe, Nanaia Mahuta, Charles Chauvel, Moana Mackey, Lianne Dalziel, Louisa Wall, Rino Tirikatene, Sua William Sio, Carmel Sepuloni, Sue Moroney, Rajen Prasad. UNKNOWN/UNDECLARED: Parekura Horomia, Shane Jones, Megan Woods, Ross Robertson, Andrew Little.

- The Dominion Post


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