David Cunliffe's leadership on the line

02:18, Sep 21 2014
David Cunliffe
DEFEATED: "I believe I have done everything I could and I can look at myself straight in the mirror," David Cunliffe said.

Labour MPs are starting to line up against leader David Cunliffe after he put his job on the line, promising a leadership vote before Christmas.

Cunliffe has admitted regret over spurning a proposed alliance with the Greens and earlier today clashed with his predecessor David Shearer over campaign strategy. Two other senior Labour MPs - Grant Robertson and Clayton Cosgrove - have joined Shearer in refusing to offer Cunliffe support.

Labour slumped to 24.7 per cent support in last night's election, down from 27.5 per cent in 2011 and the party's worst result in decades.

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Shearer went on television this morning, declaring Labour's defeat "tragic" and saying he was  "disappointed" to have stood down as leader when he did.

Shearer told TV3's The Nation that Labour was "too representative of a bunch of special groups". He said it was "a reality in modern politics" that elections are won in the centre.

"There was a group of people who wanted to take Labour to the extreme left and when you go down that path, there is nowhere else to go," Shearer said.

Cunliffe hit back at that claim, calling it "nonsense". He said there would be a formal leadership ballot process and he would bid to stay in the job.

"I am determined to lead the party through this difficult patch," Cunliffe said.

"I have last night made clear that in light of the election result I will be seeking a renewed mandate for change as leader of the Labour Party. I will be meeting with my senior colleagues and senior party officials to work through that process and will be bringing some recommendations to caucus," he said.

"It will be my recommendation that ... if there is any interest by anybody else in contesting the leadership, that we go through a proper constitutional process."

Asked if he had considered resigning, Cunliffe said: "I have considered a range of options, I believe this is the right way forward. The feedback I've had is that people feel I've performed credibly on the campaign trail and that there is a strong case for unity and stability in the leadership while we undertake the programme of change that the party needs."

Cunliffe said he had proven he could campaign strongly.

"While we have an awful lot to reflect upon the feedback I've been getting is it's not primarily a leadership issue," he said.

Cunliffe retained his New Lynn seat but Labour was beaten by National for the party vote in his electorate.

Shearer refused to discuss Cunliffe's leadership or to rule out running again for leader. But he added that "leadership is obviously important because it's part of it."

Shearer stood down as leader in August 2013, saying he no longer believed he had the confidence of his caucus.

A leadership contest saw him replaced by Cunliffe. Under Shearer, Labour polled in the 30s, a long way from the 24.69 percent of the vote won last night, which was the party's second worst ever result and returned only 32 MPs to Parliament.

Robertson said this morning he could not deny his interest in the leadership, but said the party had a process to go through.

"I've previously put my hand up to be leader, and I've always said that one day that is a job I would like but we need to take some time to look at the result now," he said on Radio New Zealand.

Robertson said last night was a "very, very disappointing result from the point of view of the Labour Party", and that was something they needed to reflect on in the coming days and weeks.

Cosgrove, who lost his Waimakariri seat but will remain in Parliament as a list MP, said the party was losing relevance in its strongholds.

"I visited a meat works recently and asked members on the line, actually what the boys and girls on the chain thought of us, and the key message reflected in the verdict of the people was that they don't have a lot in common with us," Cosgrove said.

"The message was: 'You guys just deal with minutiae and fringe issues, you should be articulating the needs and concerns that we have'. Those people who say the silly left, right thing, the truth is that thousands of Labour voters elected Mr Key and we need to reflect on that.

"The plumber, the freezing worker, the little guy who's now [got his] own carpenter shop, the SME (small business), these were all once Labour voters and if you don't progress with people as they evolve and change, people feel completely disengaged."

Cosgrove would not say whether he backed Cunliffe, saying there was an automatic process to go through. But he said a conversation was needed on why most Kiwis had sent a message that they did not feel connected with Labour.

"We have to ask ourselves very, very clearly why it is that 75 per cent of New Zealanders do not feel that we represent them, the average Kiwi ... why it is that they feel that we are not relevant."

Cosgrove said Kiwis felt Labour dealt with "too many peripheral, side and fringe issues" but he declined to say what these were.

Labour MPs not returning to Parliament include Maryan Street, Carol Beaumont, Moana Mackey and Raymond Huo.

"We will clearly miss some wonderful people who will no doubt stay around and be back in Parliament," Cunliffe said.