David Parker: MP who could be Labour's king

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Last updated 05:00 02/04/2011
DAVID PARKER: Rises from 10th to 4th place and gains energy and associate finance portfolios.
MAARTEN HOLL/The Dominion Post
NEW STAR: Three-term MP David Parker has emerged as a key player for Labour during the Darren Hughes affair.

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He is softly spoken, looks slightly bookish and quit as a attorney-general in 2006 when he – wrongly as it turned out – thought he had incorrectly filed a Companies Office return after an attack article by Investigate magazine.

Of all the people you would least expect to emerge as Labour's new star, seen by some as having the potential to take on the super-popular John Key, MP David Parker might have been top of the list.

But he has emerged as a key player during Labour's fortnight from hell and the fallout from the Darren Hughes affair.

Mr Parker, a three-term MP, was pivotal in backing Labour leader Phil Goff and debunking claims he was "doing the numbers" for a leadership coup. The story may have been seeded by Labour's enemies or his rivals, but that it was taken seriously speaks volumes.

His name is now established firmly alongside David Cunliffe, Grant Robertson, Shane Jones and David Shearer in the list of those who could be king if Mr Goff falls on his sword or is pushed.

He has also emerged as the party's economic policy guru – a sort of cross between Steve Maharey and Michael Cullen – who can think outside the square.

Left-wing political commentator Chris Trotter believes Mr Parker has the guts, the smarts and the moral courage – as his resignation in 2006 showed – to take the fight to Mr Key.

Mr Parker refuses to fuel the speculation and, at least this side of the election, seems to be working as hard as he can to keep Mr Goff in power.

But last week one senior Labour MP said he believed if Mr Parker moved, he could get the numbers to roll the leader.

Last year, The Dominion Post rated him third-ranked politician of the year after Prime Minister John Key and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

He was described as Labour's top performer, though most of his work has been out of the public eye. "He has inherited Michael Cullen's role as policy maestro and brought a lawyer's eye to it. Whenever there is a difficult issue to resolve, he is there. From the emissions trading scheme, to monetary policy to foreign investment, to the foreshore ... he is in the engine room."

Much of that work moved Labour's policy broadly to the Left, though he is not strongly associated with the party's Left.

Mr Parker declined an interview, perhaps deciding it would not be politick – and could be misinterpreted – after such a turbulent fortnight.

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The 51-year-old made his name as a litigation partner in the law firm Anderson Lloyd Caudwell and as a businessman in Dunedin before entering politics in 2002, winning the traditional National seat of Otago. He lost the revamped seat in 2005 but has been a list MP since, rising steadily through the ranks.

Former prime minister Helen Clark rated him, though she was rumoured to be less than pleased by what she saw as his over-hasty resignation in 2006. (An inquiry by the Companies Office cleared him of the allegation he filed false returns.)

But he was on a tramping trip in the Southern Alps with Miss Clark in August 2008 when her guide Gottlieb Braun-Elwert collapsed and died.

More recently, Mr Goff has rewarded him with a promotion to his inner circle, ranked only behind deputy Annette King and finance spokesman David Cunliffe.

His friends say he is a man of integrity but – though he does not show it publicly – very ambitious and there is steel behind his "butter wouldn't melt in his mouth" look.

Former Labour president Mike Williams, who helped recruit Mr Parker as an MP, says he has a great future ahead of him. Others in the party say he lacks the charisma and forceful personality to be leader and would be more suited to a deputy or finance minister role.

Trotter rejects that, pointing to Labour prime minister of the 1930s Michael Joseph Savage – albeit in a pre-TV age – as a leader who was far from "heroic" looking, but became hugely popular.

If Mr Parker is flattered by the comparison, he isn't saying. For now, he is showing nothing but loyalty to his leader.

GOING PUBLIC:

David Parker has confirmed he is in a relationship with Barbara Ward, the former partner of musician Chris Knox.

Mr Parker is an intensely private man, who keeps his three children out of the public eye, and would confirm yesterday only that he is seeing Ms Ward.

"I go to public events with her. Beyond that I am private about my private life." His marriage to Susan Wootton, a respected Dunedin poet, was kept out of the public eye – as was their breakup early last year.

That hit Mr Parker hard at the time.

Recently, he has formed a new relationship with Ms Ward. Chris Knox wrote her the rock love anthem Not Given Lightly, named 13th-best Kiwi song of all time at the 2001 New Zealand Music Awards.

He suffered a stroke in June 2009 and requires round-the-clock care.

- The Dominion Post

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