Cunliffe dissenters 'changed their view'

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 09:20 27/02/2014
Matt McCarten
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
MATT MCCARTEN: Those within Labour's caucus who had not supported David Cunliffe's bid for the leadership had "changed their view".

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Labour leader David Cunliffe's new chief of staff, Matt McCarten, has begun his tenure by downplaying talk of dissent within the caucus over Cunliffe's leadership.

McCarten, the former Alliance president who was appointed to the role yesterday, said today that he did not take up the role lightly.

"It took me a long time to think about it," he said on Breakfast.

"It does mean a move to beautiful Wellington. But . . . my relationship's in Auckland, my union and the staff which I've managed for years are all up there, and so it does mean I have to give up that work and move down.

"So both of us [McCarten and Cunliffe] had to think about it and our personal chemistry, which I think is important.

"As most people know, I've been a critic of David in the past, but since he's been in the leadership I've been really impressed with what he's been doing."

McCarten said those within Labour's caucus who had not supported Cunliffe's bid for the leadership in the past had "changed their view".

"And I don't think there's a question that if there's any [leadership] vote - and there won't be because people are united around him - [he would have support].

"The important thing now is we harness the movement to win the next election, and I want to do the best I can."

Cunliffe has had to contend with recent whispers of dissatisfaction from within his party. However, he told Fairfax Media he had looked into this and insisted his caucus are behind him.

In the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll, Cunliffe suffered from a lack of exposure during the last month, dropping two points in the preferred prime minister stakes to 10 per cent. Prime Minister John Key maintained 43 per cent support from the last TVNZ poll in October.

"This poll, overall, shows Labour continuing to make steady progress," Cunliffe said.

"There is still a high level of volatility early in election year between this and other polls."

McCarten said today that it would be the policies that would win an election, and not talk of a swing to the far Left or Right.

"Everyone talks about the centre ground as if it actually exists," he said.

"The policies are actually what wins an election.

"There's a million New Zealanders who didn't vote last [election] or didn't bother to enrol, they're disengaged in the political process at the moment, and they've got to do it."

Key said McCarten's appointment showed Labour was "going careering off to the Left", and the unions were getting an even tighter grip on the Labour Party.

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"He is hard-Left," Key said.

Yesterday, Cunliffe said his new chief of staff had a distinguished career of service to unions and progressive causes. "Matt is one of the country's pre-eminent political strategists on the Left-hand side of politics," he said.

McCarten would work alongside David Talbot, who had been seconded from Labour pollster UMR Research to run the party's election campaign.

McCarten said advocating for those at the bottom of the pile was his life's work and Cunliffe had given those people hope.

Asked about his support for various parties over time, including the Maori Party and Mana, McCarten said he would put his loyalty to working class values and the labour movement up against anyone, any time.

"I fight for the rights of people," he said.

- Stuff

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