Cracks show as race rivalry mounts

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 11/09/2013
Labour candidates

CANDIDATES: Cunliffe, Jones and Robertson.

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Labour's attempts to present a united front hit the buffers yesterday as Shane Jones attacked a fellow MP and David Cunliffe sacked a campaign volunteer.

In recent days the leadership contest has been dogged with allegations of dirty tricks. Dunedin MP Clare Curran publicly accused Camp Cunliffe of making an issue of rival Grant Robertson's sexuality to undermine him. Cunliffe sacked longtime campaigner Jenny Michie over the allegations.

The three men are vying for the top job after David Shearer resigned, failing to retain the confidence of his MPs.

Jones rounded on Curran, saying she made the caucus look undisciplined and divided, as the candidates wound up a series of nationwide hustings meetings in Christchurch.

"Either the moon in Dunedin was in the wrong phase, or she is casting around for a new job," he said.

Her remarks had left him "dispirited" and he would think twice about giving her a shadow portfolio should he be elected leader.

"I'm extremely disappointed by it. I know that passions have been excited by it but, on the final day, this is what we are talking about? . . . Not even [National MP] Tau Henare is that crazy in John Key's caucus."

The rivals have spent the past two weeks trying to persuade members they can unite the party's bitter factions.

But they have failed to paper over the cracks, with Cunliffe dumping Michie yesterday. Before joining his team, the blogger had given an interview in which she said it was naive to imagine that there would be no resistance to a gay prime minister.

"I think maintaining the appropriate perceptions that we are a united party and a united caucus is really important," Cunliffe explained.

But he also criticised Curran for using Twitter to vent her frustrations.

The rivals made a stab at presenting a chummy front in an interactive interview with stuff.co.nz, expressing agreement over some policies, including a review of the dominance of supermarket chains by the Commerce Commission.

Cunliffe, seen as the most divisive figure, said he had enjoyed the campaign roadshow. "I like them both personally and I look forward to working with both of them," he insisted.

Robertson, the MP for Wellington Central, said MPs had no choice but to pull together to boost poll results. "The message I have already sent to our caucus is that the time for talking about ourselves is over."

Jones warned Labour could tear itself apart like its counterpart across the Tasman, which endured two leadership coups before losing last weekend's election.

"If we let the virus of divisiveness continue to grow in our party then, Hello Australia, we are going to join the Labor Party over there."

He remains unconvinced about a proposal backed by his rivals to raise the living wage, $18.40 an hour, to all government workers and contractors.

"I struggle to see how I can fully sell an increase in the wages of people who work for government paid for by the taxes paid by people who work in private sector, yet I'm not offering them the same."

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- Fairfax Media

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