Labour swap good for Dunedin MPs

A change in the Labour Party leadership to Grant Robertson would have benefits for the two Dunedin MPs, Clare Curran and David Clark, both of whom were strong supporters of Mr Robertson in last year's leadership round.

Mr Robertson indicated yesterday he had ''no intention'' of challenging leader David Cunliffe before the election. However, another bad poll for Labour and Mr Robertson is likely to feel his colleagues breathing down his neck, urging a change.

Mr Cunliffe's actions are coming under increasing scrutiny, particularly after it emerged this week he had written a letter on behalf of wealthy Chinese businessman Donghua Liu.

The letter was written soon after Mr Cunliffe was elected New Lynn MP, 11 years ago.

He claims to have no recollection of the letter or any meeting with Mr Liu. But the first sentence of the supporting letter indicates either he, or his office, had been approached by Mr Liu.

Dunedin South MP Ms Curran was demoted by Mr Cunliffe after he was selected as leader of the party, as his support came mainly from the membership and trade unions, rather than caucus.

Dunedin North MP Dr Clark lost some seniority in the reshuffle, but took it well by taking a long-term view of his prospects.

Both MPs told Mr Cunliffe of their support for Mr Robertson before the Labour leadership forum held in Dunedin.

Dunedin born, raised and educated, Mr Robertson is a popular figure in the South after taking an active role in the Otago University Students' Association. Recently, he returned to King's High School to talk to seniors, something he always said he would not do - until now.

Changing a leader so close to the election is risky for Labour. In 1990, Labour replaced former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer with Mike Moore in an effort to save seats.

Mr Moore's term was short-lived, as he lost the election and was quickly replaced by Helen Clark, who went on to become New Zealand's first elected female prime minister.

Mr Robertson is the only logical choice should MPs decide to try to save some face on September 20.

Labour is polling around 23%, and the chances of winning crucial seats and votes from National are becoming remote.

However, Mr Robertson needs to be aware of former Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union secretary and list MP Andrew Little's intentions.

Before entering Parliament, Mr Little was touted as a future leader. He failed to win New Plymouth at the last election and the former Labour stronghold is now rated as a National Party blue ribbon seat.

Mr Robertson will need to get some assurances from his colleagues.

If he decides to challenge Mr Cunliffe from today, when party rules give MPs the chance to roll a leader without resorting to the lengthy leadership process, he will want to stay for more than one election.

He may well point to Miss Clark, one of his mentors, who was defeated twice before becoming PM.


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