Labour crosses fingers for easy handover

Labour's leadership is again in limbo - but there is expected to be plenty of wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes.

There are at least three candidates in the wings, but the caucus will be wary of another potentially divisive run-off.

Some would prefer a bloodless transition, which would be less of a distraction and provide a better chance of presenting the caucus as united.

But that would require the two main contenders - Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe - to come to an accommodation over the leadership and deputy leadership.

The smart money at this stage is on a Robertson-Cunliffe ticket as leader and deputy respectively. But it is not clear whether Mr Cunliffe will accept that.

Typically in such accommodations, it would be more than just the deputy leadership on the table.

Mr Cunliffe might want the finance portfolio, and might also want to bring some of his allies up to the front bench.

If he does decide to fight, and will not accept second fiddle as deputy, then Andrew Little and even Jacinda Ardern come into the mix as deputies.

That would be a distraction for Labour after months of failing to get traction in the polls. But the caucus is also aware that heading off a genuine leadership contest might spark a backlash from the wider membership, which under new Labour Party rules gets a 40 per cent say should the leadership be put to the vote.

That could be a drawn-out process, which party whip Chris Hipkins said yesterday could take three or four weeks.

Under Labour's rules 40 per cent of the votes are cast by party members, 20 per cent by union affiliates and 40 by MPs.

Many in the party were miffed that they did not get a say in the leadership at the end of 2012, and having a fait accompli presented to them by caucus might cause a revolt.




Labour's deputy leader is shaping as the favourite to take over from David Shearer. Mr Robertson is a career civil servant and former diplomat who worked for former prime minister Helen Clark and the Labour Party for a number of years before becoming an MP. The rugby-mad gay MP is well liked within the party, but not well known outside Wellington.


The Harvard-educated former Cabinet minister unsuccessfully contested the leadership when Phil Goff stepped down after the 2011 election. In 2012 he was demoted from the front bench for not expressing support for his leader. He is seen as having the intellect required for the leadership role but, while popular with the wider party, he is not well-liked in the caucus - a faction known as ABC (anyone but Cunliffe) backed Mr Shearer instead.


A newcomer to parliamentary politics but already tagged as a future leader, Mr Little has a long history with the unions and is a former Labour Party president. The former student politician served as head of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union for 11 years. A lawyer, he stood for Parliament in the New Plymouth electorate in 2011 but was thumped by National's Jonathan Young.

Possible deputies and wildcards:


The darling of the Left, Ms Ardern is a young star on the rise. A former Young Labour member who worked in the offices of Phil Goff and Helen Clark, she returned from a spell in London after being ranked 20 on the party list in 2008, guaranteeing her a place in Parliament. In 2011 she ate into Nikki Kaye's majority in the Auckland Central electorate, in what was otherwise a disastrous election for Labour.


Something of a grandmother figure within Parliament, Ms King entered the House in 1984 and has been there ever since, but for a single term in 1990-1993. A former dental nurse, she originally represented Horowhenua before moving to the Miramar seat (now Rongotai) in 1993. Health minister under Helen Clark, she returned to the portfolio last year and has landed more blows on the Government than many colleagues.


Winning the otherwise safe National seat of Otago to enter Parliament in 2002, the former litigation lawyer and businessman rose to be attorney-general by 2005. He quit a year later after an allegation that he had filed an incorrect declaration with the Companies Office, although an inquiry later cleared him. He has revamped Labour's economic policy with a capital gains tax, monetary policy reform, and a move to lift the pension age over time. Briefly put his hat in the ring for leader in 2011 before pulling out.

Fairfax Media