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Day two of the Labour leadership race and the main contenders are already embroiled in an ugly Twitter row, on the back foot over their use of the taxpayer-funded travel perk to lobby for votes - and discovering that knocking Prime Minister John Key off his pedestal is not as easy it looks.
As Labour MPs headed into their first caucus since David Shearer resigned last week, rookie MP David Clark was jumping out of his skin in excitement, reporting that MPs were "invigorated" by the contest between Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson, New Lynn MP David Cunliffe and list MP Shane Jones.
But the person who seemed most invigorated by the leadership turmoil yesterday was Mr Key, who turned up for Parliament's question time armed with a host of one-liners, and thrilled to finally change the subject from the Government Communications Security Bureau.
Mr Robertson wanted to know if Mr Key was worried about the 153,000 New Zealanders who were out of work under his Government.
"To be precise, it is 153,001 because one got sacked last week by the Labour caucus," Mr Key responded.
Mr Cunliffe made the mistake of talking about snapper.
"Far be it from me to give advice but the last leader of the Labour Party who spoke about snapper was holding them up and he has gone as well," Mr Key reminded him.
When Mr Jones rose to ask a question as well, Parliament's debating chamber erupted into a giant roar. But Mr Jones wisely directed his questions at Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce instead.
As the campaign proper gets under way, the contenders are setting up web pages, running Twitter accounts and preparing their pitches for the influential union vote and membership.
But the social-media side of the contest is already turning ugly. Mr Cunliffe publicly disowned a "Cunliffe leader" site and took to Twitter to call on supporters to "quit the troll spam page".
The account had been removed by late yesterday. But a supposed Shane Jones parody account sledging Mr Cunliffe and Mr Robertson continued to operate.
Meanwhile, National closed ranks with Labour over the travel perk after the party confirmed taxpayers would pick up the cost of the candidates' flights to attend 12 meetings across the country.
Other costs such as food, accommodation and petrol will be picked up by the candidates.
MPs in the Labour caucus are also likely to charge their flights back to the taxpayer for attending any of the candidate meetings.
The campaign kicked off on Tuesday with a debate on Maori Television's Native Affairs but Mr Jones said he drove from Kerikeri and paid for his own petrol, while Mr Cunliffe lives in Auckland.
Mr Robertson said he paid for taxis and accommodation himself but confirmed his airfare was covered by taxpayers.
"As a parliamentarian, I am able to use parliamentary resources to fly wherever I like in the country, that's part of the arrangement we have."
Mr Jones said Parliamentary Service was independent and ruled it was acceptable for MPs to use their travel perk for such purposes.
Mr Cunliffe said he was operating within the rules.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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