22 Sep 2014

Tussling starts for Labour's top job

7:08 pm on 22 September 2014

The Labour Party needs to take a serious look at how it relates to the public following Saturday's disastrous election result, senior MP Grant Robertson says.

David Cunliffe admitting defeat to his supporters on election night.

David Cunliffe admitting defeat to his supporters on election night. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Labour leader David Cunliffe took his party to its worst election result since 1922, with just 25 percent of the vote and the loss of two seats in Parliament.

However, he wants to keep the top job and has called on the party to have a leadership vote before the end of the year.

Labour MPs will meet in Wellington for the first time since the election tomorrow morning.

At least three MPs have hinted that they may consider challenging Mr Cunliffe for the job; former leader David Shearer, former deputy leader Mr Robertson and Stuart Nash, who won back Napier for Labour, have not ruled out contesting leadership of the party.

However, the caucus can not take any formal leadership vote until the final election result is posted, which is expected on 4 October.

Mr Cunliffe said while he took some responsibility for Labour's poor showing, he wanted to stay on as leader.

He wants to hold a full leadership contest before Christmas, effectively pre-empting any vote of no-confidence from his fellow MPs.

The contest would mean the leader is chosen in an electoral college with the voting split 40 percent caucus, 40 percent party members and 20 percent affiliated unions.

But Mr Shearer has struck out at the plan, saying a rushed contest was not in the party's best interests.

David Shearer.

David Shearer Photo: SUPPLIED

He would not rule out having another go at the helm but said he would only be interested in leading a united party.

"I would not want to be leader of the Labour Party, if I had to go into the Labout Party with the same sort of dissent and problems that I had before, absolutely not and that's why I believe there is a job that has to be done before we take on the issue of leadership."

Mr Shearer was asked whether Mr Cunliffe was making the play in his own interests.

"Unfortunately, it does look like he's pushing it in a context where I actually don't think that most people want to go so fast down at the moment. We have had changes in leadership and leadership struggles in the past. Let's get it right."

Mr Shearer said the party needed to take time to analyse the election result before making any rash decisions.

Mr Robertson said there needed to be a proper review of the defeat before a leadership contest.

He said that he was listening to the party and members of the public and that no one factor was an answer for the loss.

But he would not rule out contesting the leadership.

"I can't deny my interest in the job. I've previously had interest in the job, but we have a process to go through, talk to our members, talk to the public, and then we'll see what happens after that."

Mr Nash said Labour has to accept it suffered a disastrous result on Saturday.

He said Mr Cunliffe had to take responsibility for it.

Stuart Nash.

Stuart Nash. Photo: SUPPLIED

"The bottom line is, we got absolutely thrashed and we need to change the way we do things if we are to have any chance whatsoever of winning in 2017."

Mr Nash said he needed to talk to his supporters but would not rule out trying for the leadership.

Wrong strategy

Mr Shearer said Labour had focused too closely on special interest issues - such as the supposed "man ban" which dogged his leadership.

"Clearly people are not listening to us and have a particular view of us that we need to turn around and change. Part of that is the fact that we do focus too much on the small issues, rather than the big ones."

And senior Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove - who lost his seat - is echoing the sentiment.

He said many of Labour's traditional supporters had abandoned them for National.

Mr Cosgrove said he recently asked delegates at a meat works what they thought of Labour.

"They said, too many peripheral issues. Too many fringe groups. Too many sort of obsessions with minutiae."

But Mr Cunliffe rejected that outright, calling it "a bit of a nonsense."

"We ran on jobs, homes, and families. You can't get much core and middle ground than that."

Former Labour President Mike Williams said he would not support Mr Cunliffe again as leader of the party.

He said Mr Cunliffe, who he voted for in the last leadership battle, should not have another go at an election.

He said others, including Mr Robertson and David Parker would be better choices.

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Dr Michael Basset said it was fatal mistake for Mr Cunliffe to lead the party into the election when it was obvious he was not supported by his colleagues.

Dr Basset said the party's organisation skills were not strong, but their failure to pull in a large number of votes came down to the leadership.

He said that the majority of caucus did not support Mr Cunliffe, and it was obvious.

Dr Basset said the party needed to return to a constitution where caucus decided the leader, not a combination of caucus, unions and party members.

"Before they do anything else, they've got to return the constitution to a position where colleges who work with somebody are the one who will decide who will lead them, that's the only way you have a team."

Mr Cunliffe won the leadership only a year ago on the back of the wider party's votes after getting strong support from the unions and members.

Just a third of the caucus supported him then.

Now that he has steered Labour to its worst defeat in 80 years, he may have an even bigger fight on his hands to retain the leadership.

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