Hard times for Cunliffe

Last updated 12:51 20/06/2014

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OPINION: Labour leader David Cunliffe had been teetering, politically, after a series of embarrassments in March.

But he bounced off the ropes while visiting Hamilton to promote Labour's Best Start policy to the education and social service sectors and party supporters.

The Government had been striving to discredit him and his critics were "trying to take me out", he said. They could try, "but I am tougher than that."

Now he has to tough things out again. His credibility has been challenged after the uncovering of a letter he wrote 11 years ago on behalf of Donghua Liu, the Chinese businessman who was involved in events that led to Maurice Williamson's recent resignation as a Government Minister. At that time Cunliffe said it was "another example of a decline in ministerial standards".

The boot this week is on the other foot. While being questioned on whether Liu has financially supported Labour, Cunliffe said he did not recall meeting him and denied advocating on Liu's behalf in his residency application.

It is a stretch to say his letter to immigration officials shows he did advocate on Liu's behalf.

It is not in the same league as Williamson's phone call to police about a domestic violence case. He simply asked how long an administrative process would take.

Likewise, Cunliffe's memory lapse pales alongside that of another former Minister, John Banks, who could not remember flying in a helicopter to the mansion of internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom. It is understandable Cunliffe might not remember one of hundreds of letters he would have signed in 2003. The failure of his staff to find a record of the letter before he denied having acted for Liu is hardly an outrage, but Prime Minister John Key is among those questioning his management of the Donghua Liu affair.

A bigger blow has been struck by a Fairfax Ipsos poll showing support for Labour has plummeted 6.3 per cent to 23.2 per cent, while National's has climbed 8.9 per cent to 56.1 per cent. This would translate to 74 seats, easily enough for National to govern alone. Whether Labour's caucus members believe he has reasonably explained the Liu letter will be less important to his continued leadership than some MPs being afraid that they will lose their seats.

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- Waikato Times

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