28 Feb 2014

McCarten admits Key will be a challenge

11:46 am on 28 February 2014

The new chief of staff of Labour leader David Cunliffe, Matt McCarten, admits Prime Minister John Key will be a very challenging leader to campaign against.

Mr McCarten, a veteran political strategist, has taken up the job at a time when Labour and its new leader are trailing their opponents in the polls.

He says, however, that that does not reflect on Mr Cunliffe - whom he has previously criticised.

"To be fair, John Key is a phenomena, and we all know it - and I don't think anyone can be compared with him. I think you've got to compare him with David Shearer and Phil Goff, who struggled.

"But what we now have is both of the party blocs are very close, and it's an even election. I've been watching and I thought, that's the party I could support."

Mr McCarten began his political career with Labour but broke away at the end of the 1980s to join the newly formed Alliance. More recently he has worked with the Mana Party and the Unite union.

He says his loyalty lies with working-class values; advocating for those at the bottom of the pile is his life's work, and Mr Cunliffe has given those people hope.

Mr Key says Mr McCarten's appointment shows the unions are getting an even tighter grip on the direction of the Labour Party.