A bunch of lost-looking Labour MPs is enough these days to set the leadership coup hares running.
Labour leader David Shearer has continued to dismiss suggestions that criticism of his leadership by some in the party could spark a challenge.
But National is milking Labour's discomfort for all it is worth.
Cabinet minister Steven Joyce caused a brief flurry of excitement yesterday after reporting a bunch of Labour MPs were roaming the corridors of power on Tuesday night looking for a meeting room.
Mr Joyce clearly saw that - and the presence of David Cunliffe - as a sign a coup may be under way.
Labour MPs had a much more mundane explanation.
Caucus members had been invited to meet former leader Helen Clark for a meal in Parliament after her speech on global governance at Victoria University.
Mr Shearer said yesterday that registrations for Labour's annual conference, starting in Auckland tomorrow, were running 20 per cent ahead of the usual level, suggesting more than 600 delegates would attend the three-day event.
They are to discuss a raft of rule changes including how the leader is selected.
That would see the votes of MPs count for 40 per cent, members 40 per cent and affiliates, such as unions, 20 per cent. Currently only MPs vote for the leader.
Delegates will also vote on how to trigger a leadership contest, outside the regular confidence vote by MPs after an election. The conference is expected to opt for a vote by 55 per cent of sitting MPs as the trigger.
However, the conference will only discuss at a high level changes to the candidate selection process. A final decision has been put off until next year.
The issue is controversial because it could limit the influence of unions, regions and sector groups in the party - a key reform urged by Mr Shearer when he took the leadership.
"The party has to be first. The tendency in some cases to have sector groups that have tended to be quite dominant . . . we have got to make sure that ultimately what we do is best for the party," he said yesterday.
The selection process needed to be fairer, but the party was yet to resolve how to achieve that.
Most of the conference is open to the media - something Mr Shearer admits is a risk.
"We are trusting that people will take not the extreme views, but the consensus view around issues and comment on that."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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