Cunliffe: The fightback begins now

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 13:01 22/07/2014
David Cunliffe
MARTIN DE RUYTER
DAVID CUNLIFFE: Admits he's surprised by the polls.

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Labour leader David Cunliffe says he is "not making light" of recent bad polls and insists his MPs are united behind him.

A string of polls has put Labour support in the mid-20s and Cunliffe said this afternoon's caucus meeting, postponed to allow him to get back from delivering a speech in Nelson, would have some "earnest conversations about how we can do better".

"I am sure that the caucus will be as determined as I am that we stick to our knitting and to our core messages about jobs, homes and families, and avoid distractions," Cunliffe said.

He scoffed at suggestions that some in his caucus were "doing the numbers" on a leadership change.

"That's nonsense, absolute nonsense," he said.

"I am confident I have the full support of my caucus."

Labour MPs put on a show of unity behind Cunliffe as they entered their caucus meeting this afternoon.

Former leader Phil Goff ruled out any interest in becoming leader again, and while Cunliffe's predecessor David Shearer wouldn't rule it out, he said he was focused on the party's key messages.

Referring to recent comments about Cunliffe taking a holiday, the party's labour spokesman Andrew Little said the leader was entitled to a holiday like anyone else.

"The Labour party's history is to campaign for and champion holidays and the right to have rest and recreation from your job," he said, adding he did not know who made the comment or what was behind it.

"This far out [from the September election] we have all got to be focused on doing a campaign, running a campaign, all doing our bit for it and talking about the issues that matter, and that's what we are pretty much doing right now."

Little said he was not concerned about Cunliffe's performance as a leader.

"It doesn't just stop at David," he said.

"It's every body doing their bit and contributing to a campaign on the ground and in our portfolio areas.

"We have got past anger a long time ago, we are focused on what a campaign needs - a positive contribution by everybody and focused on the issues that matter."

Earlier, Cunliffe insisted Labour could win the election, now less than two months away. The party was much larger, it had done more canvassing of voters and had better organisation to turn out the vote.

"Those advantages don't show up until the polling [voting] opens," he said.

The party was also well-advanced in signing off policy.

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Cunliffe and senior MPs held crisis talks over the weekend after a Labour party insider spoke of the "disgust" some caucus members apparently felt that Cunliffe took a five-day break just two months out from the election.

The claims were made just days after the latest Stuff-Ipsos political poll put the party at 24.9 per cent support, and two subsequent polls showed the party on 26.5 per cent (the Herald/Digipoll) and 26.7 per cent (the 3 News-Reid Research poll).

"I'm not going to flimflam this, I was a little surprised that following a very successful conference, and by all indications, a very successful education policy, that the next set of polls were down," Cunliffe told Morning Report today.

Labour has been accused of being distracted over the past few weeks, with issues such as Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard's idea about reviving the extinct moa, considered a divergence from the party's "key messages".

Cunliffe also faced personal criticism after apologising for being a man in a speech to a Women's refuge symposium this month.

"In the end, the way that played was not helpful," he said.

Cunliffe took responsibility for the drop in polling, particularly among male voters, after making the comment.

But a Labour-party insider questioning Cunliffe's work ethic was "unacceptable".

He denied he'd lost control of his MPs and the wider party, but would not seek to dole out punishment for the claims.

"It's always a team game and ultimately it's collective responsibility," he said.

"Each and every one of us has a responsibility to do the best we can for the movement.

"Of course it is inappropriate and regrettable when people try to take things into their own hands and are disloyal to the team and to their leader.

"Ultimately the result is they hurt their colleagues and they hurt the movement, and possibly the person who is concerned, who I do not think is an MP, has had time to reflect on that - and I [will be] very surprised if anything happens like that again."

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- Stuff

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