Labour top backs David Cunliffe

GRANT ROBERTSON: Former Labour party leadership contender.
GRANT ROBERTSON: Former Labour party leadership contender.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has moved to quell speculation about his leadership with a public show of support form his deputy David Parker and his former leadership rival Grant Robertson.

Flanked by his two senior colleagues Cunliffe said he was concerned about the poll, which showed Labour on 23 per cent against National's 56 per cent backing.

"'There is no question of any leadership challenge. We are a united caucus and we are going forward to win this election.

DAVID PARKER: Labour's deputy leader
DAVID PARKER: Labour's deputy leader

Robertson said he was loyal to Cunliffe and had not been approached by caucus members urging him to challenge.

"After David's had three of four terms as prime minister, it could be my turn," he said.

The meetings with senior MPs and staff this morning had been to "review the events of the last 24 hours".

On top of the dismal poll, Cunliffe has been under fire over a letter he wrote to the immigration service about wealthy businessman Donghua Liu's case, despite his earlier denials of having met Liu.

Cunliffe said his staff had been unable to find the letter, which was sent in 2003. Manual records were usually not kept for more than three years for privacy reasons. An electronic search had not found anything either.

He said it had emerged Prime Minister John Key had been aware of the letter for two weeks before it was released to the news media.

Cunliffe said deputy prime minister Bill English had said senior government MPs did not know about the letter.

Bill English said it had come to the notice of immigration minister Michael Woodhouse when Labour was "on its high horse" over former minister Maurice Willamson's links to Liu and was pushing for Williamson's resignation.

English said in Parliament he had first known of the letter yesterday.

'"The critical thing is that I knew more than David Cunliffe when I knew almost nothing."

English earlier denied the government was running a smear campaign against Cunliffe, adding that the Government was not "digging dirt" on Cunliffe.

"The minister of immigration who had to answer questions in the context of discussion about Maurice Williamson, asked immigration officials to put together the information they had that was relevant to those questions about Mr Liu," English said.

"For a number of weeks there were questions in the House about Mr Donghua Liu and you would expect a competent Minister to get together the relevant information. I'm sure David Cunliffe wished he'd done the same."


Mana leader Hone Harawira believed someone within the Labour Party, rather than the Government, was running a smear campaign against Cunliffe.

He admitted he was concerned about the impact of Labour's latest troubles on the chances of Left-wing parties attracting enough votes to form a coalition government at the next election.

"I'm in the game of trying to change the government. To do that requires Mana and the Internet Party to get stronger without adversely affecting the Greens and Labour and for the Greens and Labour to also get strong with their own constituencies. Any threat to that is a threat to us overall."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said it was an issue for the Labour Party and refused to say whether he thought Cunliffe had mislead the public.

"Obviously that's really an issue for David Cunliffe and the Labour Party."

He refused to be drawn on Cunliffe's claims of a National smear campaign against him but admitted the Left's chance of forming a coalition government at the next election had taken a hit.

He maintained the election was still open, however.

"We're still 90-odd days till the election, National obviously were polling quite high before the last election and then ended up 47 per cent so we'll see what they get on the day... clearly they are in the lead and have the pool position no question about that and the challenge for parties who want to change the government is to erode into that."

He said he hoped it would not be a dirty election campaign and said the Green Party would fight a "straight" campaign focussed on the issue.

The Press