Fog of war descends in Labour battle

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 07:14 10/09/2013

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OPINION: The numbers are being done daily, the lead changes depending which camp you talk to, and the gloves are well and truly off in the Labour leadership race.

Warring between David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson supporters spilled into the public arena yesterday, after MP Clare Curran accused Cunliffe supporters of using Mr Robertson's sexuality as a mark against him. She singled out "Leftwingers" in the party and accused them of "dog whistle" politics for suggesting New Zealand was not ready for a gay prime minister.

In other signs that the race is getting increasingly ugly, Mr Cunliffe's wife, Karen Price, was nearly turned away from a Dunedin candidates' meeting because she did not have her Labour membership card, despite arriving at her husband's side.

Dunedin, of course, is considered Robertson territory after Ms Curran and fellow Dunedin-based MP David Clark publicly endorsed him.

Some feathers within the party have been ruffled, meanwhile, by Robertson supporters pushing the line there will be an exodus of the party's rising stars if Mr Cunliffe wins - seen as an attempt to exert pressure on the outcome.

On a different front, the picture over second preferences of the third candidate, Shane Jones, is getting increasingly murky after Mr Cunliffe believed he had been promised them, and Mr Jones denied that.

However, there are rumours that some of Mr Jones' supporters are openly encouraging his backers to give their second preference to Mr Cunliffe, despite those denials.

In other words, the fog of war has well and truly descended over the Labour leadership race and you can no longer be sure who is telling the truth.

According to some MPs, for instance, the numbers in the caucus remain rock solid behind Mr Robertson at a "solid 18, and probably 20". Others suggest some of those previously rock solid numbers have crossed to either Mr Jones or Mr Cunliffe.

Still others suggest that the second preferences of Mr Jones' supporters will swing the caucus vote Mr Cunliffe's way.

The unions, meanwhile, are split, although a number of small ones have endorsed Mr Cunliffe.

What it all adds up to is a party as divided over the leadership as ever - and as the election across the Tasman proved, that is not a place where Labour wants to be at the end of this race.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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