Duncan Garner: What happens to Labour if they lose?

17/09/2014

So, Winston Peters is on the rise and the Conservatives might now make it. That strengthens National’s hand all round.

What happens to Labour if they lose this weekend? I ran into a Labour MP and candidate at the weekend and he asked me what I thought Labour would get on the night. I said 26 percent. This candidate shook their head. "No," they said, "24 percent".

I asked why. The candidate said when they went door knocking, voters told them they would give their electorate vote to Labour, but not the party vote.

I asked why, the response: people said they didn’t like David Cunliffe and pointed to his "I’m sorry for being a man" speech.

It was a fascinating chat from someone at the coalface. Men, apparently, have deserted Labour and Winston Peters is picking up the support.

So, what happens if Labour get slammed this Saturday? Does Cunliffe stay on?

I suppose that depends. He is the party members' choice. The unions and party members like him. That’s important. But are they out of touch with middle New Zealand? Yes, that’s entirely possible.

I also sense many of the ABC Club – the anti-Cunliffe Labour MPs – are running electorate campaigns, not party vote campaigns. I understand they are first and foremost trying to get returned as MPs before worrying about the Labour Party.

If that’s the case and they all return, surely Cunliffe’s position in the caucus become much more tenuous? In saying that, I think, aside from the Capital Gains Tax issue, he has performed well in the debates and held his own.

But one Labour MP warned me in 2011, as I left the Press Gallery, that the more people see of Cunliffe the less they will like him and they appear right.

When David Shearer was pressured to resign Labour was at 33 percent - one internal poll had Labour at 34 percent. Labour now sits in the mid-20s. Cunliffe has taken Labour backwards, no one can argue that. But has he learned from this election? Is it worth sticking with him?

The crucial question MPs and party members must ask themselves is this: will Kiwi voters ever warm to David Cunliffe and find him likeable? If the answer is no, then he’s out of a job.

Duncan Garner hosts RadioLIVE Drives - weekdays from 3pm - entertaining talk and Decision 14 as it happens

source: data archive