D-Day for Waikato MPs?

ANGELA CUMING AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012

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Waikato's two Labour MPs could join David Cunliffe on the political scrap heap if leader David Shearer wins a vote on his leadership in Wellington today.

Hamilton-based list MP Sue Moroney and Hauraki-Waikato's Nanaia Mahuta are widely considered members of "Camp Cunliffe", the band of Labour MPs pushing to oust Mr Shearer.

The urgent caucus meeting was called by Mr Shearer as Mr Cunliffe faced rising anger within the Labour caucus after failing to endorse the leader at a tumultuous Labour Party conference at the weekend.

On Sunday Mr Cunliffe had said he welcomed an early vote to settle the leadership issue, but yesterday he said he saw no need for the early vote and he would back the current leader.

However, he again refused to rule out a tilt in February, when under party rules the caucus must vote to endorse or oppose the leader.

Mr Shearer said that statement by Mr Cunliffe changed nothing and he would go ahead with today's leadership vote.

Mr Cunliffe is likely to be stripped of his portfolios and banished to the back benches for disloyalty.

Mr Shearer's camp appears confident he has the numbers and it is highly possible supporters of Mr Cunliffe could also face demotion after today's 4pm vote.

Neither Ms Moroney or Ms Mahuta responded to Waikato Times requests for comment yesterday, but speaking to Fairfax, Ms Moroney said she would back Mr Shearer.

But no one could be required to say what they would do in February's vote.

"I don't think there has been any challenge issued, actually."

Before Mr Shearer had sought her backing, no one had asked for her support for a leadership bid.

She had seen no evidence of disloyalty by Mr Cunliffe.

"I'm quite surprised at the level of the attack on David Cunliffe . . . in the last 24 hours," she said.

"It seems as if some senior MPs in our caucus are struggling with the level of decision-making the party is now expecting . . .

"I can't see any other reason why there has been this talk of a leadership challenge."

Ms Moroney had been expected to join Mr Shearer in Hamilton and Huntly today to press the flesh and talk about the current housing shortage in the Waikato, but that trip was canned by Mr Shearer - his office announcing he had instead decided to fly to Wellington to "concentrate on current issues".

Ms Mahuta has in the past made no secret of her support for Cunliffe.

She was his running mate in the last leadership run-off and is widely considered a Cunliffe loyalist.

She currently holds the shadow education portfolio - Ms Moroney has early childhood education and women's affairs - and both may be feeling nervous about a possible retaliation for their loyalty to Shearer's opponent.

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Shadow attorney-general Charles Chauvel and energy spokeswoman Moana Mackey are also considered likely casualties.

Former Hamilton East Labour MP Dianne Yates said "no leadership change was ever tidy".

"It would not be without some blood-letting," she said.

"All I can say is that if it is going to happen it is best not to happen in an election year."

As an MP, Mrs Yates said if she had any doubt as to who should have been the party leader she would always go back to the electorate and the electoral community for guidance.

"I do know some meetings happened last year," she said.

"Whoever the leader is they must listen to the party and the people."

Earlier yesterday senior whip Chris Hipkins launched a stinging attack on Mr Cunliffe, saying he had undermined the current and previous leaders.

"That's unacceptable."

- Waikato Times

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