16 Sep 2013

Cunliffe stamps mark on caucus

8:16 pm on 16 September 2013

New Labour Party leader David Cunliffe is moving quickly to stamp his mark on the party's caucus, with some members of the senior leadership team already packing up their offices.

Mr Cunliffe was elected overwhelmingly as Labour's leader on Sunday.

David Cunliffe has called for new whips to be elected on Tuesday.

David Cunliffe has called for new whips to be elected on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ

Monday was Mr Cunliffe's first day in the leader's job, but it was the party whips last day in theirs.

Senior whip Chris Hipkins is the first casualty of the change in the party's leadership. Mr Hipkins was highly critical of Mr Cunliffe last year, accusing him of disloyalty.

Mr Cunliffe says that's in the past but he's signalled Mr Hipkins doesn't have his confidence as senior whip.

Mr Cunliffe will tell MPs on Tuesday who he wants to take over as senior and junior whip.

What's not clear is whether Mr Hipkins, who is also Labour's education spokesperson, will retain a senior role despite losing his whip's position.

Mr Cunliffe says he will not play favourites in appointing MPs to senior roles.

Former leader David Shearer says all MPs have to put past divisions behind them.

He says while Mr Cunliffe will want to unify the party, that should not determine who he puts in senior positions.

MPs will also elect the deputy leader on Tuesday.

Current deputy leader, Grant Robertson, who lost the leadership contest to Mr Cunliffe, is likely to be re-elected.

Key warned to be on guard

David Cunliffe has warned Prime Minister John Key to be on his guard, saying he will have to be well briefed to respond to Labour's attacks.

Mr Cunliffe said Mr Key will come under pressure over the Government's record, particularly the deals done with the Tiwai Point smelter and Sky City.

Mr Cunliffe told Morning Report the prime minister is funnier than him, but lacks substance and will have to be well briefed to respond to Labour's attacks.

He said he is not worried about being labelled left-wing. No one can disagree with the objective of ensuring all children live in dry, warm homes, he said.

Mr Cunliffe also vowed not to play favourites now he is the leader of the party.

Mr Cunliffe was elected leader on Sunday by a majority of party members and affiliated unions. But his support among MPs was not as strong.

Mr Cunliffe said what happened during the leadership campaign and who supported who, no longer matters. He said Labour's focus has to be on the Government.

First job will be to unite MPs

Mr Cunliffe said on Sunday he will offer senior leadership positions to people from all camps within the caucus, including his defeated opponents, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones.

For the first time party members and union affiliates, not just MPs, got to vote on the party leadership. The result was announced on Sunday.

Radio New Zealand's political editor says Mr Cunliffe won the total vote comfortably, although more MPs voted for Mr Robertson, raising questions about how loyal they might be to their new leader.

Mr Cunliffe said on Sunday he is sure MPs will support his leadership but he conceded that revamping the front bench will be a difficult exercise to ensure he keeps all groups happy, while making sure women and Maori are also represented.

Mr Cunliffe said a united Labour Party will make life very difficult for the Government.

Mr Robertson has pledged 100% loyalty to Mr Cunliffe and will resign as deputy leader.

Mr Jones said he won't be running for deputy, as he would like to see a woman MP elected to the position.

He had a blunt message for other Members: "If anyone is tempted to make mischief, it's time for them to get a new career,'' he said.

One MP who voted for Mr Robertson said they now have to back the new leader. Kris Faafoi (Mana) said MPs who did not back Mr Cunliffe now have no choice but to support him as leader.

Party president Moira Coatsworth said she's confident they will do so.

Former Labour MP Stuart Nash also says that if MPs don't like their new leader, they should leave.

Mr Nash is the great-grandson of former Prime Minister Walter Nash.

He told Morning Report that political parties which appear divided never win elections and the Labour caucus needs to unite behind Mr Cunliffe.

Mr Nash said any MPs who don't like that should resign.