Leadership race: city connections

Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson appears at  a press conference at Parliament, in Wellington,...
Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson appears at a press conference at Parliament, in Wellington, following the resignation of leader David Shearer. Photo by NZ Herald.
David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson are seen as the most likely of all Labour MPs to become leader and deputy leader of the party, after David Shearer announced his resignation after 20 months in the top job.

Labour MPs spoken to yesterday said factions seen around the party leadership selection when Mr Shearer won were likely to surface again.

However, Mr Cunliffe (50) is unlikely to be able to bring Nania Mahuta in as his deputy and the time does not seem right for Mr Robertson (42), who will be better placed after the 2014 election.

The main thing Messrs Cunliffe and Robertson have in common is a BA with honours from the University of Otago.

But there are other comparisons. They were both born in the North Island and were both diplomats.

While Mr Cunliffe went on to study and become a consultant, Mr Robertson returned to work in the office of former prime minister Helen Clark.

Mr Cunliffe has long experience as an MP, is seen as a past successful cabinet minister, a safe pair of hands but a person who has alienated many of his colleagues since he was first elected in 1999.

Senior MPs took him under their wing to try to water down his ambitious tendencies, which surfaced early. His recent time on the back benches has seen Mr Cunliffe keep his head down and concentrate on the fisheries portfolio and the snapper quota issue.

Mr Cunliffe is the MP for New Lynn but lives in Herne Bay. He was born in Te Aroha. His family moved to Te Kuiti and to Pleasant Point where his father, the Rev Bill Cunliffe, became active in the Labour Party.

David Cunliffe worked in shearing gangs and in general labouring jobs to fund part of his education at the University of Otago, where he met his wife, Karen Price.

To help fund their education while at university, Mr Cunliffe and Ms Price managed an apartment building in St Clair.

As a teenager, he won a scholarship to study the International Baccalaureate at the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales.

Mr Cunliffe studied politics at the University of Otago, where he was a member of the Otago University Debating Society, and gained a BA with first-class honours.

He worked as a diplomat from 1987-94 and gained a diploma in social sciences (distinction) in economics from Massey University in 1993.

He was a Fulbright Scholar and Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School in 1994 and 1995, earning a master in public administration.

He worked as a business consultant with Boston Consulting Group in Auckland from 1995-99.

Mr Robertson, who is in a civil union with long-term partner Alf Kaiwai, was born in Palmerston North. He was elected the MP for Wellington Central in 2008.

His family also lived in Hastings before settling in Dunedin, where Mr Robertson attended King's High School. He then studied politics at Otago University, graduating with honours in 1995.

His honours thesis studied the restructuring of the New Zealand University Students' Association in the 1980s. He served as president of the Otago University Students' Association in 1994 and the New Zealand University Students' Association in 1996.

Labour colleagues describe Mr Robertson as directly honest, expressing his view without fear or favour and someone who does not play political games. He is likeable and self-deprecating, calling himself ''jolly and fat'' and someone who likes his food.

He describes his views as ''social democrat'', shaped from an early age by his grandfather Bob Wilkie, who ran for Labour in the 1950s in the Wairarapa.

The principles of social justice were instilled in him from a young age by his parents, who were active in the Presbyterian Church.

But while his father, Doug Robertson, was preaching against poverty, he was quietly stealing $120,000 over 10 years from the firm where he worked.

He was convicted in 1991 and spent two years in jail, something that was very hard for the family, Grant Robertson says.

The election of Mr Cunliffe as leader and Mr Robertson remaining as deputy would unite two major factions of the party and ensure a united front in the 16 months or so before the next election.


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