“Fleming’s fired the starting pistol, so we all can start firing our actual pistols into her fat, unelectable, smug head”

-Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It, Series 4, Episode 4

Whether he is innocent or guilty, David Cunliffe has been tainted with the stench of the bipartisan practice of donations for access and/ or favours. Labour developed this approach during the 1980’s and 90’s, dominated it in the 2000’s, and National has perfected it. Labour cabinet connections to Liu look questionable, including Chris Carter‘s letter advising a fast tracking of Liu’s application in 2002, Rick Barker‘s dinners with Liu in China and possibly New Zealand around 2007-2008, and Minister of Immigration Damien O’Connor’s granting residency to Liu against official advice in 2004, and Liu’s $15,000 auction donation in 2007. Given Labour’s own practices on donations for access, Cunliffe has been tainted by association – despite the lack of clarity from Cunliffe’s letter.

While it could simply be the case of an enterprising journalist discovering Cunliffe’s alleged hypocrisy, this was more likely a leak coordinated between mutual political interests. Not only does this follow the hallmark of a setup – a politician set up to deny a premise that isn’t 100% true and a concluded narrative despite the vagueness of Cunliffe’s involvement – it’s election year, where Government is at stake and people will do most anything. If this is true, the aim was to destablise Cunliffe’s leadership so he must step down and be replaced obviously by Grant Robertson, 3 months out from the election.


Nobody talks about fucking dodgy donors, okay, because it makes everybody look bad.”

-Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It, Series 3, Episode 5

If this was a coordinated/ sanctioned move involving National-linked operators and the Beehive, then it was a gamble that changing leadership to relative unknown Robertson would make Labour more vulnerable and divided. There is even a loose link to Whale Oil on June 17th hinting of a forthcoming donations revelation in the Herald. However, a Cunliffe-led Labour could be just as ineffective during the election campaign as it has always been, which would be a positive for National. Also, Robertson – a former Beehive staffer and an excellent debater – could prove shrewder than Cunliffe and therefore a greater threat. Kiwiblog’s David Farrar has repeatedly asserted that he sees Robertson as future Prime Minister. Regardless, for National, it’s a case of symbolic comeuppance for gaining political capital in criticising it’s fundraising practices when both parties have a history of involvement.


I don’t know if you’ve seen those calendars that have got pictures of dogs that are dressed up and have got little dresses and hats on – she was turning my party into that.”

-Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It, Series 4, Episode 6

If this revelation came from within Labour, it resembles the plot of the Thick of It, Armando Iannucci’s brilliant British political satire. A key plot in Series 4 is underperforming Leader of the Opposition Nicola Murray being taken down by her media advisor Malcolm Tucker through coaxing her to call for an inquiry over the suicide of a nurse over a policy she initially advocated in a forgotten email, resulting in the coronation of preferred successor Dan Miller. Farrar could be stirring the pot over caucus involvement, but it’s a possibility.

It’s well known that the ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’/ ABC faction of Labour hates him. During his leadership, Shane Jones was known for frequently contradicting Cunliffe publically, and Kelvin Davis, Chris Hipkins, and Phil Goff recently defied Cunliffe by speaking out against the Internet Mana Party. Yesterday, ABC-linked MPs avoided voicing support for Cunliffe. Given that rule that allows caucus to bypass membership and unions for a leadership election three months before an election comes into effect on Friday, it’s possible that this was a timed move to salvage what many see as certain defeat.

However, introducing Robertson to the public three months from an election is a huge challenge. If he were to accept the poisoned chalice, he’d risk being overthrown if he loses. If this is a Labour move, the situation resembles the 1990 general election where Geoffrey Palmer was overthrown just before the election by Mike Moore and Palmer’s deputy Helen Clark to lessen the scale of defeat. Yet unlike 1990, only a small increase in Labour support could allow a left coalition to gain enough support to form the Government.

Also against this theory is the potential damage to Labour’s image. If right wing pundits questioned Cunliffe’s legitimacy for having membership but not caucus backing during the leadership primary, the same can be applied for Robertson’s defeat by a wide margin in membership and union votes. To overthrow Cunliffe without a grassroots leadership contest could be construed as an undemocratic coup, which could result in a seething within party membership. The only justification would be if Cunliffe resigns and the caucus unanimously elects Robertson.


The initial reactions on Twitter by pundits and bloggers on the left have been in favour of Cunliffe stepping down. This is likely more informed by a cognitive dissonance: a rush to judgement informed by desperation that blames Cunliffe and repeats the same mistake of last five years under Goff-Shearer-Cunliffe: blame the leader and anoint the next disposable saviour.


Media reaction to Cunliffe’s dishonesty/ trivial mistake reflects a hypocrisy of media standards compared to, say, John Key’s donor transgressions, policy backtracks, and circumstances around Kim Dotcom’s arrest. But consider this: mainstream corporate journalists rarely question national security operations or fundamentals of economic order to any meaningful depth. But politicians being hypocrites is an easier sell that the public easily gets.



  1. Pingback: huttrivervalley | Springing a trap for David Cunliffe: Don’t resign under any circumstances David…
  2. Marcus

    Nice read – you’re keeping me engaged in NZ politics.Like your comment about national security and fundamentals of economic order: it’s a noisy media space we live through.

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