A week ago, I argued here that David Cunliffe represented less risk to Labour’s 2014 prospects than David Shearer.
My thinking was that, faced with Mr Key, Mr Shearer might melt down completely in the leaders’ debates, dooming Labour to a third term in opposition.
But after Mr Cunliffe’s incredible antics this week – the ridiculously facile answers to the media; the smarm; the smirking; the fake wounded innocence; the bizarre victim mentality – my view is reversed.
Put Mr Cunliffe on national TV every night and the voters will certainly be repulsed.
For all Mr Cunliffe’s denials, the truth is that there was a leadership challenge last weekend and Mr Shearer faced it down.
Unless a third candidate like Grant Robertson or Andrew Little becomes viable, it is clear Labour is led by the candidate most likely to become prime minister in 2014.
Never a coup
Now, Team Cunliffe expects us to believe, there never was any kind of leadership challenge planned at all.
According to Mr Cunliffe’s diminishing supporters, all their man has done these last four years is diligently work on new policy to break the current neoliberal hegemony. (Yes, they really do talk that way.)
Except for humbly putting his name forward last year, leadership hasn’t even been on his mind.
"Crikey dick,” he told the Herald last week when asked about residual leadership ambitions, “I haven't crossed that bridge at all.”
Neither he, nor his numbers woman Moana Mackey, has asked Labour MPs for their support this year.
When his supporters put it about that a leadership challenge would be launched to coincide with the party conference this November, they were just making it up.
The man himself didn’t know anything about it.
The new story being put about by Team Cunliffe is that all the speculation about a leadership challenge at Labour’s conference was a right-wing media construct.
Under this scenario, current leader Mr Shearer was put into the job by a right-wing cabal as the human face of the dreaded neoliberalism. (Team Cunliffe also sometimes says Mr Shearer is a neoconservative but consistency is not its strong point.)
In contrast, Mr Cunliffe, shocked by the poverty he sees when he visits his New Lynn electorate from his home in Herne Bay, is a threat to the status quo.
While it’s not explained why he did nothing about it as Phil Goff’s finance spokesman for the previous three years, Labour lost the 2011 election because “voters saw that our policies were mostly the same as National’s.”
A new model is needed, he says, with more regulation and “a sustainable growth strategy for every industry sector and region”.
Alarmed at such apostasy, Team Cunliffe tells us, right-wing media barons, including even at Radio New Zealand, instructed their reporters to make up a story that he was challenging Mr Shearer for the leadership.
Poor Mr Cunliffe! When he arrived at his party conference, the dastardly right-wing press gallery asked him whether he would support Mr Shearer’s leadership next year.
Mr Cunliffe could have said “yes” and the devious neoliberal plot would have been thwarted. But, no, our Mr Cunliffe is way too honest for that. Instead, he reserved his position: “This is a constitutional conference, not a leadership conference.”
Disingenuously, the right-wing media decided that the fifth-ranked MP in the main opposition party refusing to publicly support his leader at their annual conference was newsworthy.
They even used camera angles to try to make Mr Cunliffe look smug and smarmy.
He’s not of course. As his supporters point out, it’s just that his mind works so much faster than anyone else’s. It’s why, presumably, Mr Cunliffe needs to use a slow, faux Polynesian accent when speaking at the Avondale Market. Such intelligence and communications skills make lesser mortals jealous.
Cerebral but psychotic
One of those lesser mortals is Mr Shearer, who was named New Zealander of the Year for his aid work in Somalia, when Mr Cunliffe was a junior at New Zealand’s foreign ministry.
Playing his part in the neoliberal conspiracy, Mr Shearer accused Mr Cunliffe of undermining his leadership and overshadowing his big 100,000 new houses announcement. (The state building 100,000 cheap new houses is classic neoliberalism, as any fool can see.)
Egged on by neoliberal kingpin, former PPTA and HART activist Trevor Mallard, Mr Shearer removed Mr Cunliffe’s portfolios and despatched him to the backbench.
If you doubt this is what Team Cunliffe is alleging, check out some of the posts at The Standard.
For a marginally more cerebral but equally psychotic view, read Brian Edwards’ blog.
Or talk to the Labour MPs who have had to listen to similar twaddle direct from Mr Cunliffe.