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Prime Minister John Key has used Labour's leadership woes to take a pot shot at the party, as demoted MP David Cunliffe's electorate branch looks likely to keep the issue in the spotlight through a complaint about his treatment.
The party's 34 MPs yesterday unanimously backed leader David Shearer after he called an urgent vote to put speculations of a challenge by Cunliffe to rest.
Cunliffe was stripped of his economic development portfolio and banished from fifth on the front bench to the unranked back bench for repeatedly refusing to back Shearer at last weekend's annual conference.
Leadership speculation overshadowed the conference and Labour's housing policy announcement.
Speaking to reporters in Cambodia, Key late last night waded into drama, declaring: "Labour are in a war that has now broken out in public."
"They fundamentally do not like each other, they fundamentally do not trust each other."
Key said he's happy to go "up against" Shearer in the 2014 election, but said he wouldn't "bet the ranch" on him remaining leader that long.
The leadership saga was not "helping or hurting" National.
"They are focused on themselves and we are focused on the country. We are more stable, my caucus are unified behind me, we have solid coalition partners ... they can't even organise a conference."
The prime minister said he wouldn't have demoted Cunliffe, saying: "Sometimes it's better to keep your enemies closer."
Meanwhile Cunliffe's New Lynn electorate branch is considering a formal complaint to the party over comments made by his fellow MPs about his actions at the conference.
Shearer has indicated Cunliffe could regain his trust and his talents will be missed by the party.
New Lynn electorate secretary Greg Presland today said Cunliffe's ranking and portfolio was a matter for Shearer.
"But there are aspects about what has happened in the last few days that have caused us concern," he told Radio New Zealand.
"I personally think some of them had been unfair. I sat with David for most of the conference and I certainly didn't see anything he did that was wrong."
Cunliffe had the right not to say who he would vote for in an upcoming vote in February as every MP was expected to consult with their electorate branches, Presland said.
There was an element within Labour that was trying to "sabotage" Cunliffe's reputation for some time, he said.
"I'm still struggling to find evidence about it."
There had been suggestions Cunliffe also undermined former leader Phil Goff during the last election campaign.
"The evidence there is Goff not recalling a figure during a debate. It seems to me Phil just forgot the figure, the figure had been available for months but somehow a simple mistake like that is converted into evidence David is trying to undermine him."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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