Labour Party leader David Cunliffe needs to stamp his mark
on the party's election-year congress which starts in
Wellington tonight. He tells political editor Dene Mackenzie
he is up to the task.
Labour Party leader David Cunliffe has not had the best
of times recently. If he was not fighting off claims of large
anonymous donations from a wealthy Chinese businessman, he was
deflecting an announcement on bringing back the moa from Trevor
Mallard, one of Labour's longest-serving MPs. A television poll
even asked who was the best person to replace Mr Cunliffe as
Labour has been languishing in the polls, falling below the
crucial 30% mark this week and Mr Cunliffe's preferred rating
as prime minister is barely into double figures.
He fought off a bad cold that left him nursing himself back
to full strength last weekend but, he told the Otago Daily
Times, he was back to his best and would be putting all of
his energy into motivating Labour activists who assemble in
the capital tonight for the election-year congress.
There had been criticism the congress was not open to the
media, except for Mr Cunliffe's address on Sunday. National's
annual conference last week, although carefully stage
managed, was open to the media with journalists and MPs
tweeting from the conference floor.
Responding to criticism, Labour has now opened some of its
Saturday session to the media.
However, an election-year congress was different to the
party's annual conference, he said.
''A conference is dealing with policy but we have already
finalised our policy. This is about gearing up the campaign
teams so they can go back to their electorates and campaign
hard for every last Labour vote.
''National might have millions of dollars but we have
thousands and thousands of supporters ready to get out and
campaign on behalf of the party.''
Party membership had more than doubled since this time last
year, some of it because of the leadership contest which Mr
Mr Cunliffe believed despite the ''dreadful smear campaign'',
party activists were in good heart and ready to take the
party message to the streets.
Labour moved away from the traditional electorate
organisations and formed ''hubs''. There was an
Otago-Southland hub which allowed members from right across
the region to join and campaign across electorate boundaries
for the party vote.
''This is an MMP-focused campaign. I believe we have the best
Labour would be 120 years old in 2016 and had a tradition of
activism unmatched by other parties who would also be
campaigning hard, he said.
Education was the major theme of the congress. Policy
announcements would be made tomorrow and in the leader's
address on Sunday.
Asked about his personal health, Mr Cunliffe said he had been
battling a cold but was feeling much better.
On Monday, he would start a five-day regional tour spending
100% of his time on the road. With a recess week in
Parliament, other Labour MPs would be touring the country to
help candidates' campaigns.
After the final week in Parliament, which would be dominated
by valedictory speeches, Mr Cunliffe would return to
full-time campaigning in the build-up to the official
''I'm reminding people that at the last election, the
Government lost 6% to 7% of its vote. I want to ensure at
least that much happens again. The election will be tight. It
will be close,'' he said.