Hooton on Cunliffe’s delicate dance

Matthew Hooton looks into the problems besetting Labour with their dance of the veils with his potential coalition partners.

David Cunliffe can only become prime minister if Hone Harawira wins Te Tai Tokerau and brings Laila Harr?, Annette Sykes and John Minto into parliament with him.

At the same time, any overt endorsement by Mr Cunliffe of Mr Harawira would do more harm to Labour?s still-strong election chances than what John Key feared would happen to National were he to endorse Colin Craig?s Conservative Party.

These brute facts explain the extraordinary manoeuvring that is underway in Mr Harawira?s electorate, which spans Cape Reinga to West Auckland.

Labour?s candidate is Kelvin Davis, who has a number of disabilities in the eyes of modern Labour: male and not ashamed of it; married to a woman; three kids all to the same woman; assistant principal at a Catholic school; plays rugby; drinks beer; lives in the provinces; believes in work not welfare.

Unsurprisingly, he was given a place on Labour?s list that makes it impossible for him to return to parliament unless Labour wins an unlikely 29% of the party vote.

Kelvin Davis is in the one position many in politics hope their opposition is never in…that of having nothing to lose. If he doesn’t win Te Tai Tokerau then his political career is over, therefore he will use any and all tactics open to him.

As first revealed exclusively in the?NBR last week, Mr Davis and his supporters are determined to win Te Tai Tokerau from someone whose angry and grievance-based politics they regard as anathema to Maori economic development.

They wanted to launch an innovative web-based campaign targeting Mr Harawira?s relationship with Kim Dotcom in order to raise funds for the election, but were thwarted by Labour?s general secretary, the far-left Tim Barnett, who argues both Labour and Internet-Mana are part of the same progressive movement.

Perhaps out of desperation, some of Mr Davis? supporters even approached me, asking if I would organise a corporate fundraising lunch for their candidate, after hearing of a similar event for another Labour candidate I was associated with.

That was also put a stop to.

David Cunliffe spent yesterday in a blind rage, blaming variously party workers and Kelvin Davis for the bad news that flooded the news. The people he should have been blaming though are himself and his management team who spiked Davis’ funding efforts, and have nobbled his campaign to support the shabby, secret deal he has with Internet Mana to cede Te Tai Tokerau. He can complain all he likes that there isn’t a deal but the bottom line is this. In hundreds of kilometres of roads in the north there are but two signs up for Kelvin Davis. Labour has pulled resources and money out of the campaign and they’ve done it on purpose.

Struggling for funds, and with no support from head office or Mr Cunliffe?s team, it probably shouldn?t surprise that internal party documents have begun appearing in the public domain.

After TV3 followed NBR?s lead in reporting some of the?leaked emails, poor Mr Davis took to Facebook and Twitter to vent his opposition to Mr Dotcom, reaffirm his belief in Labour, express his view that the party?s strategy needed to include trying to get soft National voters to consider the other side, and even issue his?bank account details.

For all this he was roundly condemned by Labour?s blogosphere and twitterati.

What else was he supposed to do after the party placed him in an unwinnable list position and cut off his only avenue of funds and support? David Cunliffe only has his inept campaign team to blame for the predicament they find themselves in.

In the last few hours, Mr Cunliffe has aligned himself with the general condemnation of Mr Davis. After reading him the riot act privately, Mr Cunliffe has told media he is sure Mr Davis now understands Labour?s ?Vote Positive? message ? a deeply ironic slogan by a party leader whose core message is to attack the motives of everyone else who has been involved in politics for 30 years.

Mr Davis? telling off, however, has failed to stop him and his allies from briefing those they shouldn?t on developments.

The conflict between leader and candidate is inevitable. For all his unpopularity plunging Labour?s poll ratings to the mid-20s, Mr Cunliffe remains close to the prime ministership.

Labour on 27%, the Greens on 13%, NZ First on 6.5% and Internet-Mana on 3.5%, and a Cunliffe-led government has the numbers ? as long as Mr Davis loses Te Tai Tokerau and Mr Harawira prevails.

Be warned: that is exactly what Mr Cunliffe and his far-left chief of staff Matt McCarten are working towards.

That is indeed what is planned and agreed to, but Kelvin Davis went rogue as he has nothing to lose…placed in that position by inept campaign management who ironically were brought in as game changers.