Editorial: Cunliffe must bring discipline
Of all the things Labour leader David Cunliffe might be criticised for, his decision to take a few days off to spend time with his children before the election campaign begins in earnest is emphatically not one of them. There is no reason to doubt his statement that he has been working extremely hard over the last few months. Just about all politicians have been.
The three days he took last week to go on a skiing holiday in Queenstown with his children was his last opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time with them for the next nine weeks. The fact that he has been criticised for it shows there is still not enough understanding of the needs of working parents. Rather than being attacked, Cunliffe should have been applauded for setting an example by trying to achieve an appropriate work-life balance in a high-level career in which the work demands are relentless and intense.
Worse than that, however, the attack on Cunliffe was yet another illustration of the continual indiscipline afflicting the Labour Party at present. It also demonstrates Cunliffe's inability to get his party inside the House and outside focused on what they must do if they are to have any chance at all in the general election.
The attack, which first appeared in the Sunday-Star Times at the weekend, was done behind a veil of anonymity. The source was described as a senior Labour figure, but it could not be discerned from the story whether it was a person in the caucus, two-thirds of which is said to support someone other than Cunliffe, or someone in the wider party. Either way, it seemed calculated to do the maximum harm.
It was the latest in a series of stories that has put Labour in the headlines all right, but for all the wrong reasons. From Trevor Mallard wittering on with some harebrained thoughts about the genetic reconstitution of moa, to Kelvin Davis breaking with the party line over a contentious highway in Northland, to a half-baked suggestion about changing the burden of proof in rape trials, to Cunliffe's own cack-handed apology for being a man, the stories are a corrosive distraction from whatever substantive policies Labour is trying to promote. The party's message is being swamped by them.
It is understandable if a mood of panic is beginning to grip some Labour members. The latest poll result was the worst in that particular poll in 15 years and the average of polls shows the party stuck in the mid-20s. On those numbers, even the party's deputy leader, David Parker, is at risk of not getting re-elected. But if Cunliffe wants to present himself as an alternative prime minister, and the party as an alternative government, he must bring some discipline to it. Otherwise, voters will, quite rightly, write him and the party off.