4 Dec 2011

Labour leadership candidates focused on meetings

12:15 pm on 4 December 2011

Labour's two-horse race for the leadership is now focused on a series of meetings with the party membership around the country.

Leader Phil Goff and deputy Annette King announced earlier this week that they would step down on 13 December.

Candidates David Cunliffe and David Shearer say they need to earn the support of their colleagues.


On Monday, the first of six meetings between candidates and Labour Party members will be held in Hamilton. Others will be held in Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, ending with one in Auckland on 11 December.

Although the new leader will be elected by secret ballot by MPs on 13 December, the party wants its members to give feedback to MPs.

Mr Shearer's bid has been boosted after Thursday's withdrawal of David Parker, who had been considered a front-runner. Mr Parker says he will support Mr Shearer.

Radio New Zealand's political staff say it is understood Mr Parker felt his chances were slipping away and did not want to split the vote of those opposed to Mr Cunliffe.

Mr Shearer, an MP for the past two-and-half years, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Friday he is hoping to bring those who would have supported David Parker in behind him.

"Well certainly, (David Parker) being in my team is going to give me huge support, because the guy's amazingly talented, experienced, (has) a very good brain in terms of knowing policy and that sort of thing, so it's going to, I think, help encourage others to come across as well."

However, Mr Shearer says he is also not taking things for granted and not counting on Mr Parker's supporters transferring their votes. He admits he still has a lot of work to do to win the support of party colleagues.

He believes the Labour Party needs a fresh look and must rebuild itself, as it did under David Lange and Helen Clark.

Though new to politics, Mr Shearer says he is not new to the bigger world stage and can rebuild an effective team to win the next election.

Time for a generational change - Cunliffe

Mr Cunliffe will not be drawn on whether there is a group within Labour's caucus willing to support anyone other than him, but did say that there are "a few old-timers" there.


"I do think that it's time for some generational change. We had the worst election result, despite such a lot of hard work by so many good people since the 1930s. It really is time to more forward now."

Mr Cunliffe told Morning Report on Friday if Mr Parker's supporters now back Mr Shearer, it is just a re-allocation of votes he was not expecting to win.

He says he is receiving good support from party members and caucus colleagues, but is also taking nothing for granted.

Mr Cunliffe says he has the experience needed to help Labour win the general election in 2014, having served as a diplomat, a Cabinet minister and winning his New Lynn seat five times.

Likely supporters

Mr Parker declined to be interviewed by Radio New Zealand, but in a statement on Thursday said he would support Mr Shearer and that there is growing support for a new face to lead Labour. He gave no other reasons for his decision.

Mr Parker joins an influential group of MPs understood to be backing Mr Shearer including Grant Robertson, Trevor Mallard, Jacinda Adern, Damien O'Connor and the retiring leadership team of Phil Goff and Annette King.

It is understood that Mr Cunliffe's key supporters include his preferred deputy Nanaia Mahuta, Lianne Dalziel, Charles Chauvel and Moana Mackey.

However, there is also a large number of undecided MPs waiting to be swayed.