Thursday 19 June 2014

Why David Cunliffe Must Not Resign

Under Pressure: Eleven year old letters and rogue polls notwithstanding, David Cunliffe must soldier on through this well co-ordinated attempt to thwart the will of his party and throw the 2014 General Election to National.
DAVID CUNLIFFE MUST NOT RESIGN. A trap has been sprung upon the Leader of the Opposition but no matter how painful the pressure he must not give in. He must wait until the jaws of the trap can be forced apart – in this case by reiterating the simple truth – and only when he is free should he find out who set it.
Before investigating that matter, however, let us reiterate the simple truth.
Eleven years ago, in 2003, when David Cunliffe was a very junior minister in Helen Clark’s government, his electorate office was contacted by a constituent interested in speeding up his immigration application. A letter was drafted detailing the case of Mr Donghua Liu and seeking information on the progress of his paperwork. It was passed on to Mr Cunliffe who signed it, along with scores of similar letters, and then forgot all about it.
This was not a letter designed to do anything more than respond to the request of a constituent. It contains no special pleading. It is addressed to no minister. And it was not followed up by private meetings, or dinners, or any other form of lobbying.
That is the simple truth.
Now, let us return to who set the trap.
The most obvious person to have done so is the journalist who broke the story, Jared Savage. Except there’s a problem. Savage’s newspaper, the NZ Herald, has been running stories about Liu’s associations with the Labour Party since Monday (16 June) but according to Savage the “incriminating” documentation sought under the Official Information Act (OIA) was only released to him today (Wednesday 18 June).
What I’d like to know is whether or not the earlier stories involving former Labour cabinet minister, Rick Barker’s relationship with Liu, were similarly the product of OIA responses, or whether they were derived from other sources. It would also be useful to know if Savage was advised by those “other sources” to seek out Cunliffe’s letter specifically, or whether the latter just turned up as a result of Savage requesting every official document relating to Donghua Liu. And, if it was the latter, how swiftly did Immigration NZ respond to Savage’s OIA request?
Occam’s Razor would suggest that the story unfolded “naturally”. One piece of information leading to the next. One OIA request prompting another and then another until Mr Cunliffe’s name entered the frame.
But there is an alternative, much more worrying, explanation for the appearance of this 11-year-old letter.
What if someone, somewhere, was in a position to gather every piece of official information on Donghua Liu, and out of that pile of files and electronic data was able to extract information damaging to both Barker and Cunliffe? What if that person then leaked this information to the NZ Herald in such a way that in the course of the news media’s subsequent questioning of Cunliffe about Barker a number of unequivocal statements were made which the 2003 letter could be construed as contradicting? Wouldn’t that leave Mr Cunliffe in a very embarrassing – not to say vulnerable – position?
One does not have to be as avid a fan of the TV series House of Cards as I am to know that there are all sorts of ways sensitive political information can make its way into the public domain and that it arrives there for all sorts of reasons – some of them good, some of them decidedly not good.
So, if Jared Savage is playing the role of Zoe Barnes, who is playing the role of Francis Underwood?
The most obvious candidate would seem to be someone on the Government side of the House. Someone with access (illegal but deniable) to Donghua Liu’s file and the records of Rick Barker’s movements in China. That would make this a standard National Party “black op” designed to inflict maximum possible damage upon Labour generally and upon Cunliffe in particular. The Herald might like to think through the ethics of co-operating with this sort of deliberate political destabilisation so close to a general election. But, then again, it might just say: “Ethics-schmethics – a story is a story!”
Or, maybe, the Francis Underwood character at the bottom of this whole incident isn’t in the National Party at all. Maybe the whole story about Barker, Liu’s donations, the 1,800 mile side-trip to Chongqing, was fed to Jared Savage with only one purpose in mind – to catch David Cunliffe out in a lie and force him to resign.
And what good would that do? The last thing Labour needs this close to an election is another leadership contest. Ah, but this is where it gets really, really interesting in a decidedly House of Cards kind of way. If a vacancy occurs in the leadership of the Labour Party within three months of a General Election, the choice of a new leader is left to the Labour Caucus – and only the Labour caucus.
Here’s the exact wording of the rule:
B12 Should a vacancy in the leadership occur in the 3 months prior to the announced date of a general election (where known) or in the absence of an announced date the statutory date (calculated according to the date on which the election is triggered or, in the case of a caucus vote, a meeting or special meeting is requested), a new Leader will be elected by Caucus majority vote. The new Leader will then be subject to confirmation within three months after the election, pursuant to the Party constitution (i.e. they would need to be endorsed by 60%+1 of the new Caucus, or a full leadership contest would be triggered).
And why did I go to the trouble of tracking down this obscure rule? Because the Herald’s Claire Trevett made reference to it last week (12 June) in her regular Thursday column. Under the headline NZ Game of Thrones – Does Cunliffe Dare To Play? Trevett’s piece raises the possibility of a leadership challenge that only the Caucus can play:
“But Cunliffe can't afford to ignore [ … ] his caucus. He is about to head into his own danger zone. From June 20, Labour's caucus has a three-month window to change the leader without having to go through the party's new primary-style process giving its membership a vote.”
This is, of course, an entirely mistaken reading of Rule B12, whose first 20 words “Should a vacancy in the leadership occur in the 3 months prior to the announced date of a general election” condition the subsequent provisions relating to election by Caucus majority. Even so, it was the fact that Trevett was even aware of the Rule that furrowed my brow. Only someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Labour Party’s administrative machinery could have alerted her to B12’s existence. Who? and Why?
We don’t know – yet – but today’s events do make an awful kind of sense when viewed in the baleful light of Rule B12. If Cunliffe could be forced to step down – thereby creating a vacancy – then the Anybody But Cunliffe faction of the Caucus would find themselves ideally positioned to extract an unholy and extraordinarily destructive vengeance.
Which is why I say again: David Cunliffe must not resign.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 19 June 2014.


Sanctuary said...

I am not sure if the ABC faction really understand the end game. They think that if Labour lose, they'll see the back of Cunliffe and business as usual will resume. What will actually happen is they will be expelled from the party at next years conference. Maybe they see either outcome as a win-win. After all, the likes of Mallard, King and Goff are in safe seats - a job forever, made easier by not having to pretend they can't make common cause with John Key. But mark my words - if Labour lose, they will not be members of the Labour party in 12 months.

David said...

Couldn't agree more. If David Cunliffe was to resign under this sort of pressure, when he hasn't done anything wrong, then he wouldn't be the man to lead New Zealand.

Jenny Kirk said...

For once, Chris, you and I are thinking along the same lines.
And I've written to the Herald challenging them to ask the Minister for Immigration HOW the OIA on Liu was activated. It seems to me that only someone in the Immigration Dept could have trawled through the Liu file to find anything they could use to smear David Cunliffe.

Jigsaw said...

What's most interesting here is that you are more interested in where the leak came from than the truth or otherwise of it. In fact the letter includes details of his investments-hardly a form letter. Politic parties are always on shaky ground when they condemn others for their actions without being absolutely certain that they have not done something the same -or similar, themselves. Grant Robertson shows his poor judgement in this way almost every day. Labour should be trumpeting their policies not doing this raking around. The polls reflect the way people feel about this. Surely Labour has some sort of polling division? Or is it as dysfunctional as the party itself?

Guerilla Surgeon said...


It seems to me that both National and Labour decided to let this man in against advice. The more important question is why did they do this?

CarbonGuilty said...

You may think C's reference today to scabs in his Caucus points to the source of this sauce on him, but I could not possibly comment.

Martin English said...

First off, I doubt anyone "in the beltway" has been ignorant of Rule 12B since it was implemented; It's a relatively new rule, prompted by the changes in how the leader of the Labour Parliamentary Party was elected. I was aware of existence, and I'm as non NZ beltway as you can get :)
The fact that some (many ?) people don't read it correctly is another issue entirely. It only takes someone in the right position to understand how to trigger it.

Secondly, the main argument against this being a National "Black Op" scheme is that removing the current Cunliffe "management team" serves no purpose for the National party. The current polls suggest that the voting public MUCH prefer the perception of a stable government (regardless of any ideological and / or moral faults they may have), to what is perceived to be a rag tag collection of, well, rat bags with an eye for the main chance (pace !! - I am discussing perception here, we can argue how real this perception is later !!). I can give lots of examples, but see this mornings article in Stuff headlined David Cunliffe's catastrophes

When I use Occam's razor, I see yet another management (nothing to do with ideology or policy) blunder by Cunliffe or his "management team"; the issue isn't David Cunliffe or the Labour Party ideology or the various soap operas going on in and around the party, it is that however / whoever is advising Cunliffe is the National party's biggest ally this year.

In fact, given how far behind they are in the polls, I doubt you could get any rational person to take on the Opposition Leader's job at the moment. Of course, that assumes that those involved are rational; Does Grant Richardson, to pick a name, have the ego to believe he can win the election from here or would he rather wait till afterwards ? What does the National Party "black ops" team think getting rid of Cunliffe would accomplish ? Are they thinking rationally about irattional people, irationally about rational people, or irattionally about irational people ? (you'll note the deliberate omission of thinking rationally about rational people).

Occam's razor ? There's another aphorism that applies here as well (the name of which I can't remember !!)
Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence


Anonymous said...

I cannot see them getting David to stand down at this late stage. They would really need a winner to do that.

Anonymous said...

I cannot see them getting David to stand down at this late stage. They would really need a winner to do that.

thor42 said...

Interesting theory but it overlooks a giant "fly in the ointment" - Cunliffe is the best thing that has ever happened to National. Why would they want to get rid of such an unpopular and lame-duck leader?

They would risk Labour getting a bounce in the polls from whoever replaced him. Better to let Cunliffe stay where he is and fly Labour into the ground, surely?

Anonymous said...

In the vacuum left by the lack of any inspiring policies that challenge the neo liberal norms it is not surprising there is room for these silly games to make headlines.
Cunliffe could still dominate political debate if he came out with radical policies that would forge a platform for the left to unite around.
At this stage he has offered nothing to encourage the people who most need a change of government to rally around him as a leader that will change things.
If he continues to stand for nothing of substance then he will continue to battle over issues without substance.

Dave_1924 said...

@ Jenny - "And I've written to the Herald challenging them to ask the Minister for Immigration HOW the OIA on Liu was activated. It seems to me that only someone in the Immigration Dept could have trawled through the Liu file to find anything they could use to smear David Cunliffe."

Maybe Mr Liu or his agent requested the information on his file - given he has been kicked repeatedly by Labour over the last few months that seems plausible - and he will remember asking Mr Cunlife to write on his behalf and he will well remember donating to Labour once upon a time .... The more I think about the more I think he is central and he maybe feeding information to anyone who will listen to use as they please.....

Anonymous said...

Hanlon's Razor

Patricia said...

Doesn't this fiasco, and Williamson's fiasco, really boil down to making party funding limited to membership fees and electioneering being funded by the taxpayer. With our country becoming more and more cross cultural then this type of "misunderstanding" of what donations mean will become more common.

Kat said...

National couldn't care whether David Cunliffe stands down or not, although it would produce a useful distraction. The real objective is to sow further the seed of doubt in the mind of voters, especially the so called 'middle NZ' Key refers to.

David Cunliffe did a good job backing himself and Labour on nine to noon this morning and even managed a direct challenge to Key to put up the rest of the dirt Key says he has on Cunliffe.

My question is how reliable really are these polls? Quite frankly there must be another NZ hidden away somewhere to reflect such huge support for National.

Solidarity is the name of the game now folks, or three more years of National.

twr said...

I think most of NZ is currently thinking that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Labour started the Liu train, and proceeded to beat up National about ultimately trivial things that everyone knows all politicians do. It's incomprehensible why they didn't think this would come back and bite them in some way.

If they stuck to issues that matter rather than inane point scoring, then everyone, particularly the voting public, would be better off.

rouppe said...


I am dead against taxpayer funding of parties.

Rather, donations should come from natural persons only, and every single donation - even $1 from little Jonnie's piggy bank - should be declared.

If a political party cannot gather support from the people it purports to represent, then it clearly is not representative.

Anonymous said...

Cunliffe is a fall guy. Labour is throwing the election. In the Waitaki electorate (where the physical Bowalley Road is) Labour is standing some random candidate who resides in Dunedin which is no way to win votes. Also, Clare Curran was eventually selected for South Dunedin again despite the electorate growing tired of her performance.

manfred said...

National do care about whether David Cunliffe stands down. He is a real threat to them. At least in the long term.

David Cunliffe would beat JK at the televised debates.

Kat said...


True, Cunliffe will beat Key in the debates. Thats only if they are fairly run. Watch for more skullduggery there.

Victor said...


Why would it be illegal for the government to look inside Donghua Liu's file?

I would have thought that the Immigration Minister has the right to look inside any file in his department's possession.

Or am I mistaken?

thesorrow&thepity said...

"the simple truth" so you're saying Chris that members of parliament are merely rubber stamps?! That they will in fact sign ALL recommendations for ANYONE who writes to them? Say for instance Charles Manson sent Cunliffe a letter in 2003 it would receive his stamp & approval without any delving into the merits of his immigration status?
I think you need to take off the rose tinted glasses Chris, Cunliffe has been caught short & at the end of the day "the simple truth" is he should of looked at what he was signing! As for witch hunts as to who is to blame, it's more likely to be from Grant Robertson's camp.
End of the day simply one more reason that middle NZ will not vote for this second hand trojan horse dung salesman!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I would dearly like to know why it was recommended that this man not be allowed into the country, but having said that both parties seem to have agreed that he was fit and proper migrant. Probably because they seem to be encouraging rich people to migrate. So given that he was not Charles Manson, and presumably obviously so, the letter probably was signed without a great deal of investigation. Partly - simply because it was a form letter asking how long the paperwork would take. ( I wish I had somebody who could do that for me at the moment with the British government because I need some paperwork from them :-).) It's not as if he was recommending a course of action.

Trotsky said...

Murray Mcullys removal of the Jones boy was pure genius, if he was round now labour could swap out the reviled narcissist (clownliffe) for a genuine man of the people populist who in my opinion push JK to the wire. Instead we see the downward spiral towards single figures of the great saviour of the left - scourge of the neoliberal oligarchs David Clownliffe JK's greatest political ally.

Anonymous said...

I despair at the dearth of meaningful opposition to National. And I despair at the fact that National appears to be ahead.

I can fully understand why so many people chose not to vote at the last election. Other than an attitude of "a pox on both the main parties", there is little reason to vote in this country.

I will vote in this election. I'm guessing my vote will be via gut feel on the day and which party causes me to gag the least. Neither National and Labour are candidates for my party vote. My electorate vote will be cast against whoever is incumbent, regardless of party affiliation.

The Labour party appears to me to be:

a) old
b) a vehicle for politicians to get into parliament
c) irrelevant
d) lacking in policy

The leadership antics are a distraction to the real issue. Want to get me to vote Labour? Time to flick the switch to vaudeville and put on a show that I would pay to watch.

CarbonGuilty said...

I'm from the other side of course, so what do I know about Labour, it's all so weird to a simple Tory, but shouldn't Cunliff get rid of the 'scabs' (a word of significant depth on the left eh) by sacking them from caucus and bringing in new innocent blood to sucker etc?
Move firmly left and even green, to steal back the left he has lost and continues to lose?
No point it trying to be like Key and win the middle. Clearly impossible. He should head the other way, to fight another day.