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OPINION: Carpe Diem - Cunliffe must go hard

Monday 16 Sep 2013 8:50 a.m.

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David Cunliffe's fancy Ivy League education means he doesn't need a translation of the Latin phrase "carpe diem".

It means "seize the day". To put it in Kiwi parlance it means "go hard out".

And that's exactly what Cunliffe has got to go to do - Cunliffe has to go hard out.

He will get a honeymoon. Whether that lasts a day, a month or until the end of the year is unknown. So Cunliffe must seize it.

He's got to use that mandate he has from the party rank-and-file and the unions.

Cunliffe needs to seize the ABC issue - the Anyone But Cunliffe crew of MPs. This will have to be a mixture of banging heads together while holding their hands at the same time.

It will have to be 'Cunliffe's Butchery' but with a surgeon's scalpel rather than a meat cleaver.

It won't be easy - for every promotion, there is a demotion. Not every MP will get to smoke on Cunliffe's peace-pipe - there will be casualties.

ABC need to realise that Cunliffe is running the show - and they must get back in their box.

But ABC have left Cunliffe with a nasty hangover - everybody knows that 18 of the 34 MPs absolutely staunchly did not want him. Some of the less staunch, like the union boss Andrew Little, voted against him even though they knew the writing was on the wall of Fraser house and it said "Cunliffe".

That will be forever used against Cunliffe by the National Party.

So Cunliffe needs to unite. He needs them to work with him. He needs to show the public the illusion of unity at least.

He could start by allowing Grant Robertson to be his deputy - that would be a powerful symbol.

Robertson is capable, he is popular in the party. I understand he wants the job - Cunliffe should let him have it.

I would also expect David Parker to keep finance - and I'll tell you why. A caucus source has told me Parker voted Shane Jones first preference and Cunliffe second preference (effectively a vote for Cunliffe). That means Parker ditched Camp Robertson for the winning side. He did what those 18 MPs and the likes of Little couldn't do (apparently Ross Robertson went for Grant Robertson second preference, not Cunliffe for you political watchers out there).

Parker and Jones went with Cunliffe - they now head a powerful clique in the Cunliffe era - and Jones will of course get a top role as well.

Cunliffe needs good people around him to curb his "exuberant side". He is not a steely resolve Richie McCaw kind of politician. He is not a cool, calm and collected Dan Carter type of politician. Cunliffe is an Ali Williams kind of politician with a serious streak of "anything can happen" going on. Just look at his campaign launch.

(Cunliffe had pulled the portrait of himself off the wall at his victory speech. This shows he is willing to change - but does it show that he will do whatever it takes rather than what's right, as with the "sacking" of Jenny Michie.)

John Key is just waiting to bait him, to make him over-reach. I would expect a "rope-a-dope" tactic from Key - he can wait until next year to knock out Cunliffe if he has too.

The ABC MPs know Cunliffe's weaknesses all too well - he actually needs to listen to them. 

Cunliffe needs to seize back Opposition. No more second-fiddle to the Greens and New Zealand First - he needs to boss them around.

He needs to take votes off the Greens straight off the bat. No cosying up to them until at least next year.

He also needs to try and harness the Jones factor to appeal to NZ First voters.

Then he needs to head into the centre-ground and try and take votes off John Key - the hardest job of all. Especially since he's been tacking left like Team New Zealand sailing on one hull.

Cunliffe needs to go for a 2 percent + 2 percent + 2 percent formula:

  • Take 2 percent off the Greens.
  • Get 2 percent from amongst the 800,000 people who registered but didn't vote.
  • Take 2 percent off National in the centre ground (actually a 4 percent swing, because for every vote Labour gains, National loses one).
  • The 2 percent + 2 percent + 2 percent formula takes Labour from 32 percent to 38 percent and on the brink of Government.

It sounds easy - but it's not.

Cunliffe doesn't have long. The honeymoon might not last. Key may quickly get the measure of him. The public might not like him.

Thanks to Labour's new selection process, he has goodwill and a profile platform others would be jealous of.

But if he flounders, the ABC club will say "we told you so". The divisions will start again. It won't be pretty - and it won't take long.

But one thing is simple: if Cunliffe can get Labour up in the polls, ABC won't hate him so much. Some may even kind of ever so slightly warm to him.

So that's why it's carpe diem time for David Cunliffe.

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