Cunliffe wins Labour leadership

TRACY WATKINS, MICHAEL FOX AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 17:10 15/09/2013
Fairfax NZ

David Cunliffe is announced as the new leader of the Labour Party.

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LAWRENCE SMITH / Fairfax NZ
VICTORIOUS: David Cunliffe addresses the media at his electorate office in Auckland following his victory.

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Less than an hour after his victory was declared, Labour's new leader had already turned his focus to next year's election, vowing to take the fight to Prime Minister John Key and the National Government.

David Cunliffe has emerged as the new Leader of the Opposition after winning the clear backing of the public and unions, but not of his Labour Party caucus.

With Labour facing an uphill battle to win next year's election, Cunliffe has wasted little time switching his attention from securing the leadership to an even greater task, speaking of the need for the Party to put its squabbling behind it and focus on getting into Government.

"We must beat John Key in 2014 and we will only do that by mobilising the entire party, the affiliates, the membership and the Caucus," Cunliffe said.

"If we can combine the best of all of us, the winners will be the people of New Zealand.''

Cunliffe's first big challenge as leader will be uniting the caucus, but his next will be facing off against Key on Tuesday at Parliament's 2pm question time.

Asked what to expect Cunliffe said it would be a "solid performance" from the whole Labour team.

"I'm not expecting to have [Key's] trousers around his ankles on the first meeting.

"But I'm expecting to show we will be credible and very determined exposing the many policy lapses of this government."

In a statement Key congratulated Cunliffe.

"It is a huge responsibility to lead a political party and there will be great expectation of Mr Cunliffe," he said.

Cunliffe also thanked his fellow candidates for the way they had contested the election, praising their campaigns which he said remained positive and championed Labour's cause.

"Now is the time for all of us to unite in a common purpose, to defeat the Key Government and to restore democracy, prosperity and fairness so New Zealanders can have their country back," said David Cunliffe.

Under his leadership, a Labour Government would "champion full employment and a fair go for all New Zealanders," he said.

"Every Kiwi kid deserves the chance for a good start and to make the best of their life.

"Jobs mean more than money, they represent dignity and a stake in the future. Jobs like money do not grow on trees. To be credible and responsible as well as visionary, the Labour Government I lead will have a solid programme of economic development."

ELECTION NUMBERS

Labour's general secretary Tim Barnett said Cunliffe was elected by a majority in the first round of the three-way electoral college and said this gave the race clarity.

Cunliffe had received 51.15 per cent of the vote, followed Grant Robertson on 32.97 per cent and Shane Jones on 15.88.

As expected, Robertson pulled the majority of caucus support with 47.06 per cent followed by Cunliffe on 32.35 per cent. Jones had 20.59 per cent support.

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Cunliffe drew the most support from the wider party, at just over 60 per cent followed by Robertson at just under 27 per cent and Jones on 13 per cent.

Cunliffe was the overwhelming union favourite, taking almost 71 per cent of their vote.

ROBERTSON RESIGNS

Robertson talked to Cunliffe by phone as Robertson made his way to join supporters at the capital's Astoria cafe, telling Cunliffe he would resign as the deputy Labour leader.

"We agreed that we will talk soon," the Wellington Central MP said. "One thing I did tell him was that I'll...resign as deputy so that can become a caucus decision to re-elect a new deputy...I'll be having some further discussions with David in the next 24 to 48 hours."

Robertson rejected suggestions there is a disconnect between MPs and grassroot supporters.

"This has been a clear result and an absolute win for David and he's got my absolute loyalty and total commitment to win next year."

Robertson also thanked contender Jones today, saying he hoped he was given a senior position.

JONES BACKS CUNLIFFE

Jones was keen to accentuate the triumphs achieved through his campaign.

He described it as "an invigorating race" and called for the party's caucus and voters to get behind Cunliffe.

"The winner, David Cunliffe, will have my unstinting support. There's not a doubt in my mind that unless we unify, we run the risk of losing the momentum built up through this race," Jones said.

He rejected the idea of a push for the role of deputy and said instead it would be the right time to give it to one of the female MPs.

Jones was unsure who that would be, but expected "feverish discussions in Wellington" to be taking place.

LABOUR IS 'STRONGER'

The election process had been an "outstanding success" in terms of revitalising the party, Barnett said from Fraser House in Wellington where the announcement was made at 2.50pm.

"With this leadership election the Labour Party he embarked on and delivered a new and exciting and democratic process,'' he said.

''In terms of party and public and party engagement it has been an outstanding success, it has unified the Labour Party and energised our grass roots.''

Barnett said there had been a high turnout from Labour members throughout and "Labour is stronger as a result".

PRAISE FOR CUNLIFFE

At David Cunliffe's electorate office a huge cheer erupted as it was announced the MP had won the Labour leadership race.

Cunliffe had just arrived with wife Karen Price to address the crowd after the news was announced.

MPs Iain Lees-Galloway, Rajen Prasad, Sue Moroney, Carol Beaumont and Moana Mackey were at Cunliffe's New Lynn electorate office to hear the announcement, along with dozens of supporters.

Party President Moira Coatsworth told the crowd Cunliffe had won with a clear majority to more cheers.

"David has been elected by a robust and democratic process and won on the first round with a clear majority. This gives him a strong mandate as leader and he has the full support of the Labour Party."

Cunliffe had the leadership skills and vision "to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victori in 2014," she said.

She introduced Cunliffe to his supporters as the next prime minister of New Zealand.

"I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour prime minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand."

PLEDGES OF UNITY

Green Party Co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman congratulated Cunliffe on his success and praised the election process.

"We have had constructive working relationships with previous Labour leader David Shearer and look forward to developing a good relationship with David Cunliffe too."

At Astoria cafe, where Robertson was joined by partner Alf Kaiwai and about 50 supporters, Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford said Cunliffe had won a "resounding mandate."

"Like the rest of caucus I'm itching to get stuck into the 2014 election, which I think has basically started today," Twyford said.

"David is the best man for the job, he's been chosen by an extraordinary democratic process...he's won fair and square."

Twyford said there was "a spirit...and a mood" to draw a line under past divisions.

Faafoi echoed these sentiments. "Now it's time to get on with it. He's won and it's time for unity...just put the last five years behind us and get on with it."

Asked what Cunliffe brings to the job, Faafoi said: "He's got plenty of qualities. He can sell a message very well."

List MP Jacinda Ardern was also asked if Cunliffe was the best man for the job. "Collectively, the Labour party has decided he is the best man for the job and we are moving forward with him as leader," she said.

She was also questioned on his attributes. "I think he has demonstrated the attributes he has as leader and they have all been known to us as a caucus...he's a good speaker, an excellent policy make, he's got an incredible mind."

Asked what Cunliffe must do to gain the backing of MPs, Robeertson said: "He'll be doing exactly what I know he'd always have done. He'll be talking to his colleagues to make sure we are coming together as a team."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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