I'm working my butt off - Cunliffe

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014

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DAVID CUNLIFFE: "I work long hours with every ounce of energy that I can ever muster".

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Labour leader David Cunliffe says he is working 18-hour days on the campaign trail and won't apologise for spending time with his children during the school holidays.

Two fresh polls - by 3 News and the Herald Digipoll - have confirmed Labour's support is now camped in the mid-20s, plunging the party into crisis. See results of the latest Stuff/Ipsos poll here.

Labour's frontbench MPs gathered in Auckland yesterday, knowing some of them could be out of a job in two months if the downward slide is not arrested.

Senior sources yesterday confirmed caucus discipline was a key focus of the meeting, after recent headlines overshadowed party policy.

The Sunday Star-Times yesterday reported an unnamed Labour Party source criticising Cunliffe's decision to take time off so close to the election, to go skiing with his family in Queenstown.

Cunliffe yesterday rejected the complaint. "I work long hours with every ounce of energy that I can ever muster, and I took a last break before the election for a few days with my family.

"I was sick for two days and I had a three-day holiday skiing with my children and that is it. They probably won't see much of me now before the election."

He said the break had not been raised with him by any of his MPs. "There's a general recognition that I work bloody hard, for 18-hour days and more."

Yesterday's frontbench meeting is understood to have settled on a radical rethink of strategy for the remainder of the campaign, with Labour set to focus on fewer key policies and messages.

MPs are also under orders to be more disciplined. Cunliffe is believed to have had words with veteran MP Trevor Mallard about his plan to revive extinct moa, which grabbed headlines on the eve of a Labour Party conference that was supposed to showcase the leader.

Others singled out for criticism for going "off reservation" include Tainui MP Nanaia Mahuta and Te Tai Tokerau candidate Kelvin Davis, who have both taken opposing views to party policy on issues in their areas.

A senior MP said the latest poll ratings were a concern.

"We have to be bloody good at what we do, we've got to be very tightly focused and on message.

"We've got good policy, got a good campaign plan, we know we've got the troops on the ground, we can pull this up."

There was an acknowledgement that the public was confused by the number of different signals coming from Labour, and that was blamed on "trying to do too much too quickly".

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"Then there's another level with people saying things that are completely off the script."

That included Cunliffe himself, for his apology "for being a man" to a Women's Refuge conference.

Sources insisted that Cunliffe's own performance had not been singled out during yesterday's meeting and there was no discussion about him standing down.

- The Dominion Post

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