Jones takes Cunliffe's limelight

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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Labour leader David Cunliffe was hoping to use National's bad week to put Labour back on the front foot with his first major speech since Prime Minister John Key named the election date.

But all eyes instead were on his one-time rival Shane Jones.

While Cunliffe prepared to deliver a speech on the economy, Jones upstaged him by apologising on live television to minister Judith Collins for spreading rumours about her private life.

Collins was close to tears on Thursday after Jones claimed during a radio interview that she had been living at the Auckland mansion owned by Oravida chairman Stone Shi.

Collins' husband David Wong-Tung is a director of Oravida and she has been criticised for seeming to endorse the company's products on a trip to China.

Prime Minister John Key gave her a public dressing down after it later emerged Collins had a private dinner with Shi, an unnamed Chinese official and others during the same trip but failed to tell him about it.

Jones and Collins appeared together on TVNZ's Breakfast yesterday and the Labour MP said his comments had been "grossly misconstrued".

"Any suggestion I was imputing something of a highly personal nature to do with her and her family or her and her husband was wrong, in fact," Jones said.

"What political banter I was engaged in, I lost my customary felicity with language."

Cunliffe waved off questions yesterday about Jones making such a high-profile appearance ahead of his own speech.

But he has been battling to get clear air in the face of Jones' more colourful turn of phrase and aggressive pursuit of a headline.

Cunliffe's speech focused on regional development as part of an "economic upgrade" for New Zealand to lessen the economy's dependence on commodity price cycles.

Jones' actions could be seen as a sign that his leadership ambitions have not been buried, especially with recent polling showing that Cunliffe has failed to get the lift that his supporters hoped for.

But he is also likely to ruffle feathers within caucus and among the activist base, given that most of them fall to the left of Jones on the political spectrum.

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- The Dominion Post

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