Trotter goes all in, Cunliffe a Walter Mitty character

Chris Trotter has gone all in…I sense he is sniffing there is serious trouble inside the Labour party and in particular with David Cunliffe.

One News last night mentioned results of a poll in relation to Winston Peters so I suspect we will be drip fed information and other poll results over the weekend. Over he past 4 weeks there have been a number of polls and none of them are good for Labour and Cunliffe.

My Labour sources are telling me that the rumblings in caucus are pronounced and whatever supporters Cunliffe did have are fast evaporating as their own internal polling shows zero movement, even after major policy announcements.

Chris Trotter is a bellwether for strife in Labour…he is sensing it.

WE’LL ALL HAVE TO WAIT for Sunday’s One News bulletin to discover whether or not the results of the Fairfax Ipsos and Roy Morgan polls are confirmed by Colmar Brunton. If they are then David Cunliffe will have to act swiftly and decisively if he’s to preserve what little remains of Labour’s hopes for victory.

If he fails to act, then the narratives being constructed around his leadership will harden into perceived facts that he will find increasingly difficult to escape.

There are rumours, but I’ve heard those rumours before and they’ve been wrong, so will wait for the results. I suspect though that Labour and National know so I will watch for posts on blogs framing the talking points.

What are those narratives? There are many, but for the moment these are the two most damaging.

The first asserts that while Cunliffe undoubtedly won the support of his party in 2013, he singularly failed to win the support of his caucus. That failure is forcing him to tread with exaggerated caution around his parliamentary colleagues in an attempt to maintain a facade of party unity.

The Leader of the Opposition’s and his advisers’ preoccupation with unity is now extending that caution into the realm of policy with the result that Cunliffe’s campaign promises to enshrine Labour’s core values at the heart of the party’s 2014 manifesto are beginning to ring hollow. 

My Labour sources tell me that the leader’s office is riven with factions and the research unit isn’t much better. Wendy Brandon might have left because of shingles but she was a gonna anyway just because she has no political brains and was a “prize bitch” as one insider described her. The resignations and replacements are symptomatic of a deeper malaise in Labour.

The second narrative is being constructed around Cunliffe himself. Essentially, it casts him as a high-functioning Walter Mitty character unsure whether his true identity is equal to the persona he was obliged to fabricate in order to win the affection and loyalty of Labour’s rank-and-file. That uncertainty is making Cunliffe’s political performances look increasingly forced and inauthentic.

This second narrative has been greatly strengthened by Cunliffe’s piecemeal redefinition of Labour’s flagship “Best Start” programme and his ham-fisted, pot-calling-the-kettle-black attack on the socially-insulating effects of the Prime Minister’s wealth.

David Cunliffe’s dodgy CV gave us an inkling about his Walter Mitty capabilities with his claims of founding Fonterra and attendance at US schools of study that were wrong. Then there are his affectations that come across as insincere no matter how hard he tries.

Cunliffe’s defenders will of course argue that even the slightest perception of disunity is likely to prove fatal to Labour’s chances of winning the election, and that the radical political leader that the Leader of the Opposition longs to become can only be realised once he has been armed with the state power that flows from victory.

But if victory can only be won by caution, then Cunliffe’s government must perforce be a cautious one. New Zealand will not accept a Prime Minister who, as soon as all the votes have been safely cast and counted, cries: “Ha, ha! Fooled you!”

No we won’t be fooled again, John Key knows this and that is why he outlines what he is going to do well in advance and then does it. David Lange and Roger Douglas fooled everyone…they were the biggest electoral tricksters and from all signs so far David Cunliffe looks like emulating their electoral skullduggery.

For the moment then, in both the Leader’s Office and the Labour Caucus, caution has the upper hand. On almost every front the policies Labour is advancing are responsible, mainstream and unlikely to frighten Capitalism’s horses. Last April’s momentary flirtation with radicalism – “New Zealand Power” – was quickly hustled out of the media spotlight and now shows every sign of being regarded as an embarrassing example of David Parker’s policy wonkiness.

Labour and Cunliffe are thus advancing into Election Year as a fragile and ill-tempered coalition of pale-pink neoliberalism, anxious social-democracy, thwarted ambition and slighted ego. But, as everyone knows, a coalition can only be as radical as its most conservative member; and remains united only for as long as the benefits of loyalty outweigh the costs of treachery.

I think the strain is starting to show and I think Trotter knows this.

[T]his, in a nutshell, is Cunliffe’s dilemma. To win he needs to mobilise the young, the brown and the poor who stayed home in 2011. That will require a radical manifesto and a leader willing to sell it with maximum energy and minimum equivocation. But Labour’s caucus isn’t capable of agreeing on a radical manifesto – which means that the abstainers of 2011 will remain outside the electoral process. Without them Labour will have no choice but to make its pitch to “soft” National supporters. But Cunliffe was elected to do exactly the opposite. Any attempt to sell Labour as “National Lite” will profoundly disillusion his “Old Labour” supporters and not be believed by the ex-Labour voters his colleagues are determined to turn around.

It was precisely this fear: that all those Labour supporters energised by Cunliffe’s election, apprehending the possibility of imminent betrayal, will suddenly crash Labour’s poll results, that inspired my much criticised “Canaries In A Coalmine” posting on The Daily Blog.

If the news from Colmar-Brunton on Sunday is as bad as, or worse than, the news already received from Fairfax-Ipsos and Roy Morgan, Cunliffe has only one winning strategy. He must go over the heads of his caucus colleagues and appeal to that latent Labour constituency that has waited so long for political representation that offers some prospect of genuine economic and social progress. And if his caucus rebels, then he must demand that his party selects him a new one.

There are serious problems in Labour…and it is going to spill over. Monday and Tuesday next week are looking set to be dreadful days for David Cunliffe and his caucus to deal with.


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