In the end it wasn't as close as some in Labour thought
(and feared) it would be. And for that the party should give
David Cunliffe has not only won the battle for the Labour
leadership, he has won it convincingly. That is important
because a narrow victory for Cunliffe would have raised
questions about the strength of his mandate, especially with
the overwhelming majority of the caucus backing either Grant
Robertson or Shane Jones.
As it turned out, a chunk of Robertson's support in the
caucus melted away, while Jones did better than expected in
attracting support from colleagues.
The majority of the caucus might not like Cunliffe because of
past failings. He is now in a position to make amends.
A narrow victory for Robertson would have left the wider
party disgruntled. That would have been the worst outcome.
For the wider party, including the memberships of affiliated
trade unions, has spoken - and in no uncertain terms.
The strength of the support for Cunliffe among the
rank-and-file suggests two things: first, that Cunliffe was
seen head-and-shoulders as the contender with the best chance
of returning Labour to power at next year's election, and,
second, that the membership wants the parliamentary party to
produce clearly-defined policies that sit comfortably within
the Labour tradition. In other words, no more wishy-washy
The strength of that support from rank-and-file members may
put some pressure on Cunliffe to shift Labour more to the
left than he might want.
The most pressing task, however, is to unify the caucus. That
means Cunliffe not overly rewarding his backers with plum
jobs or trying to run the caucus with a tight clique of true
believers. It means reaching out to those MPs who did not
It also requires recognition by those MPs that Cunliffe has
been given a massive mandate - and with that comes change
which will not suit everybody.
In short, it is now time for olive branches in bulk quantity
inside the caucus.
- By John Armstrong, NZ Herald political correspondent