Cunliffe: I'm backing Shearer
By Laura McQuillan and 3 News online staff
David Cunliffe has sought to put rumours of a leadership coup to bed by saying he will back current leader David Shearer if a vote was held in the next few weeks.
Talking to TV3's Firstline this morning, Mr Cunliffe said it was never his intention to cast doubt on Mr Shearer's leadership or push for an early vote.
"I have not called for an early vote," said Mr Cunliffe.
"Media said that my leader was calling for an early vote, and I said if that was going to clear the air then I would welcome it, but I was very careful to say that it was not me that was calling it.
"If there is an early vote, he has my support. I will be voting for David Shearer.
- OPINION: Cunliffe faces demotion, says Duncan Garner
- How the numbers add up: Who do Labour's MPs support
Mr Cunliffe did not say whether he would back Mr Shearer in a vote due to be held in February, but "may very well do".
"I think that the speech given yesterday was excellent, I think the policy was excellent and I think that the party was happy with it, I think the direction is good, and I expect that he will be confirmed in February [as leader]."
Mr Cunliffe rang Mr Shearer last night to tell him he has his support.
Hundreds of party members turned out to Labour's annual conference in Auckland during the weekend to approve historic reforms to the party's constitution and structure, including making it easier for MPs to roll their leader.
But the coup talk dogged Mr Shearer and detracted from his maiden leaders' address to the conference on Sunday, where he announced plans for a major building programme for new housing targeted at first home-buyers.
Eleven months after they went head-to-head for the leadership, Mr Shearer may call for a confidence vote as early as Tuesday.
It's a recess week at Parliament, meaning the party has seven days to quell speculation of a leadership challenge before it becomes a talking point for Government ministers in debates and further knocks Labour's approval ratings.
On Sunday, Mr Shearer was in no rush to announce a date for a confidence vote, saying he would call it on his own terms.
"I'm the leader, I'll take those decisions when I need to," he told media.
"We have some issues to deal with inside the Labour Party. That will happen, but today is about getting our vision for New Zealand to New Zealanders, and that's what I've done."
He denied a last-minute addition to his speech, calling for unity, was an attack on Mr Cunliffe.
"We have to show New Zealanders we are more focused on their ambitions than on our own," Mr Shearer told delegates.
This morning Mr Cunliffe said he wasn't focusing on a leadership challenge.
"I didn't come into politics to do any particular job… I'm not focused on being leader of the Labour Party."
He says any vote should take place under the new rules enabling just 40 percent of caucus - or 14 of Labour's 34 MPs - to trigger a leadership contest, rather than the normal 50 percent threshold.
NZN / 3 News