Labour MPs could dump David Cunliffe

04:45, Jun 18 2014
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Labour MP David Cunliffe celebrates being elected leader of the Labour Party at his electorate office in New Lynn, Auckland.
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The Pleasant Point High School debating team won the national secondary schools debating title in 1979. From left are Sarah Feasey, Helen Steven and David Cunliffe.
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Bill Cunliffe, David Cunliffe and his brother Stephen Cunliffe are pictured in the Mackenzie Country sometime about 1978.
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Labour MP Annette King (left), carrying a 40-year-old photo of former Prime Minister Norman Kirk at Waitangi, Opposition and Labour leader David Cunliffe and Titewhai Harawira (right) arrvie at the Te Tii Marae on February 5, 2014 in Paihia.
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David Cunliffe talks to the media following a speech at Auckland's Pullman Hotel in March. Cunliffe was speaking to the New Zealand Institute about Labour's economic plans.
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David Cunliffe in his Parliament office.
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The Labour leader speaks to the crowds at Parliament in May, as they protest against the abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls.
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Labour Leader David Cunliffe speaks to media following the Government's 2014 Budget at Parliament in May.
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Labour MP's Shane Jones, David Cunliffe, and Grant Robertson pause during the Wellington meeting of the Labour leadership campaign.
David Cunliffe
On August 22, 2013, Cunliffe said he was considering his options after David Shearer resigned as Labour's leader.
David Cunliffe
Labour's then-economic development spokesman David Cunliffe makes his way to the caucus room at Parliament on November 20, 2012 in Wellington. Labour party members were called to a leadership vote meeting today after speculation of a leadership challenge by Cunliffe.
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In 2000 Cunliffe was Labour's MP for Titirangi.
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2006 and Labour's then-communications minister David Cunliffe and Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast don their wetsuits (Cunliffe's was on back-to-front) and surf while surfing the net. It was a promotion for an internet conference in Wellington.
David Cunliffe at home
A snap of David Cunliffe in his younger days.
David Cunliffe at home
David Cunliffe on the 2014 campaign trail.
David Cunliffe at home
David Cunliffe on the 2014 campaign trail.

What delicious timing.

In only two days time, Labour MPs have a three-month window to get rid of David Cunliffe.

The party's dismal showing in the polls would be reason enough for the leader to be nervous.

Cunliffe
DAVID CUNLIFFE: Labour leader.

But today's revelations about his dealings with wealthy political donor Donghua Liu should have Cunliffe contemplating a return to the backbenches.

From Friday, his caucus has a small window to dump the leader without triggering a primary-style contest that would require the Labour party membership to vote.

In other words, after having an unpopular choice foisted on them in November, MPs are back in control.

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In the last few weeks, there has been low-level chatter about a senior MP "doing the numbers."

Former leaders Phil Goff and David Shearer, along with ex-whip Chris Hipkins, have publicly agitated against an electoral accommodation deal with the Internet-Mana alliance in Te Tai Tokerau, stoking the rumours.

This is pretty much business as usual with Labour.

Speculation about in-fighting and loyalty have been par for the course since Labour lost power in 2008.

But until now, political watchers didn't seriously believe anyone was contemplating a coup so close to September's election. That timing is probably what will save Cunliffe's leadership.

Nevertheless, these revelations are seriously damaging.

Not only did Cunliffe twice mislead reporters - about both meeting and advocating, for Liu, but his behaviour looks hypocritical after attacking National's Maurice Williamson, Michael Woodhouse and John Key for their "cash for access" dealings with Liu.

He has also repeatedly goaded Prime Minister Key about his multiple "brain fades."

And for a party desperately trying to convince voters it is ready to govern, shoddy record-keeping with respect to donations and electorate meetings is deeply problematic.

Cunliffe might argue the party didn't take Liu's cash - but he can't definitively prove that. And with two former ministers, Rick Barker and Chris Carter, also linked to Liu, the perception of cronyism will linger.

Cunliffe looked confident as he faced down reporters this afternoon - even adopting Key's "I'm relaxed" mantra.

However, he admitted that he canvassed the opinion of senior colleagues on the blunder, a telling sign he recognised his leadership is on a knife edge. Only deputy David Parker was by his side as he fronted the cameras.

Key, who is in the United States, is looking ahead to acres of positive coverage as he meets with US President Barack Obama this weekend.

Now he's got the pecan on top of his pie. His political foe hobbled himself by fulfilling the "tricky" narrative National has spent months feeding.

Key must be doing cartwheels. The question is, how many Labour MPs are doing the same?

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