Fun and Games start today

Tracy Watkins writes about the problems inside Labour’s caucus.

Labour’s public show of new-found unity could be just skin deep, with some fearing blood on the floor within days of the new leader taking office.

Frontrunner David Cunliffe could have an uphill battle winning over a hostile caucus after soundings confirm the bulk of the caucus remain behind Grant Robertson as leader.

One MP warned that if Cunliffe won, how he handled his first days in the job would be crucial: “I reckon we will know in the first week or so how it’s going to go. If he can’t bring the group together then he’s shot.”

One caucus source put the numbers at between 17 and 21 for Robertson, while Cunliffe is believed to have between 12 and 14. Rank outsider Shane Jones is believed to have only a handful of caucus votes despite being a big hit with the public after the party’s two-week leadership “primary”. Some MPs are being counted by all three camps, suggesting there has been horse trading. 

If Cunliffe is the leader I can’t wait to see all of his caucus line up and declare like they have before to all the other leaders that they are loyal to the leader. Chris Hipkins and Trevor Mallard would rather eat a dead rat than do that.

But any attempt at brokering unity could come unstuck if Cunliffe attempts to appoint a whip over the incumbent Chris Hipkins, who publicly tore strips off Cunliffe after Labour’s divisive annual conference last year. The whip’s position is usually only held by someone who has the full trust and confidence of the leader and there are rumours Cunliffe has promised the position to Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway.

But the position can only be changed by the caucus, leading to a potentially bloody battle between Robertson supporters and Cunliffe if Hipkins refuses to stand down.

Hipkins is a gonner…his job has been handed to Iain Lees-Galloway on a promise should Cunliffe win. About the only way for Cunliffe to keep Mallard calm would be to knife Ross Robertson and put Mallard in as a deputy speaker.

Cunliffe has had the most momentum of the campaign and is expected to be the party favourite, also favoured by the unions.

But if he wins, he may be in the unprecedented position of leading a caucus without the confidence or backing of a majority of its MPs.

Camp Cunliffe insiders expect he will extend an immediate olive branch if he wins – and that would include retaining Robertson in the crucial deputy’s position if he wants it. A source within Cunliffe’s team also expected there to be a number of Robertson supporters retained in senior portfolios.

Yeah, not so sure on that. Word is Sue Moroney has been promised deputy. I’ve got my fingers crossed for that.

In any case we will know shortly whether there will be a caucus bloodbath or a membership bloodbath. Then we can also start holding them to account for their pork spending promises.

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