David Cunliffe's tumultuous rise and fall

  • Breaking
  • 27/09/2014

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe took over the Labour leadership this time last year after an under-pressure David Shearer stood down.

Labour had failed to find another leader as popular as Helen Clark, and after trying Phil Goff and Mr Shearer, many in the party saw Mr Cunliffe as their best hope. But Kiwi voters didn't connect with him the way they did with his rival in the National Party, John Key.

"Tomorrow we begin a three-year campaign for the Government benches; that campaign and that rebuild starts now." Believe it or not, that was Mr Cunliffe's concession speech straight after Labour's worst drubbing in almost a century.

It was confirmation, as Mr Cunliffe's dissenters say, that he is tone deaf to the mood of the party and disconnected from voters, after 75 percent of them ticked the box for other parties.

Even after the election we saw a defiant Mr Culiffe, who failed to take responsibility for what's now a full-blown red alert, instead pushing ahead with his own leadership agenda, announcing he'd take the party to the 2017 election.

"I'm not the problem," he says.

Mr Cunliffe came into Parliament in 1999, with a triumphant Clark government. He was the MP for Titirangi. It later became the New Lynn electorate.

He's always been ambitious, with two failed attempts at the party's leadership in as many years. The second, complete with a beard, spectacularly imploded at Labour's 2012 annual conference.

The"ABC" club, that's Anyone But Cunliffe, declared open warfare. Mr Cunliffe was exiled, sent to Labour's backbench, before he finally made it back as a leadership candidate in 2013.

But critics say the skipper didn't learn fast enough on the job, and the gaffes kept coming.

He accused Mr Key of being out of touch in his multi-million-dollar mansion, but Mr Cunliffe was living in Auckland's leafy suburbs too, in a $2.5 million house.

Mr Cunliffe criticised the right for hiding donations in trusts. But then Mr Key branded him as "tricky" after it was revealed Mr Cunliffe used a trust himself to channel anonymous donations to his leadership bid.

And then came the so called "man-a'culpa": "I'm sorry for being a man."

After solid performances in earlier debates he tripped over one of his own core policies – capital gains tax.

In recent days Mr Cunliffe has been holed up at home, taking what he calls "soundings" from advisors. Meanwhile, several MPs in the party refuse to rule themselves out as future contenders for the leadership.

This week he was hauled into a seven-hour closed-door meeting, emerging to deliver a public slap-down of deputy leader David Parker at a press conference, refusing to allow him to answer any questions.

But one question that will have to be answered sooner rather than later is who will lead Labour back from this historic election thrashing.

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