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Cunliffe's caucus pulls together

Friday 27 Sep 2013 12:45 p.m.

David Cunliffe (Getty)

David Cunliffe (Getty)

By Peter Wilson, Political Writer

David Cunliffe promised he would deliver a united caucus, and he just might pull it off.

His MPs are fizzing. After months of gloomy navel gazing and not much of a work ethic they look as though they have a new lease on life.

In parliament even those who were demoted and given new roles have been taking it to the government, laughing off a few jibes from National MPs.

The reason is clear - they believe Cunliffe can win the next election.

They didn't believe David Shearer could and they were staring at another three years in opposition.

The lure of power is a great incentive to hang together and not screw things up.

So it seems they really are putting problems of the past behind them and getting on with the job - at last.

The MPs made a collective decision before the leadership election that they would back the winner, whoever it was.

Veteran MPs in the caucus who have been through it all before are understood to have warned the others they could forget about winning next year if there's any festering discontent over Cunliffe's shadow cabinet appointments.

They were right, it would be fatal.

There's just over a year to go and there's a lot of ground to recover.

The Greens, who don't have any leadership problems, made strong gains during Shearer's reign and they've been grabbing Labour votes.

It isn't something that's openly talked about because those two parties are allies and will almost certainly form a coalition government if they win, but one of Cunliffe's priorities is to neutralise Russel Norman.

"We need the Greens to be strong, but not too strong," a caucus source told NZ Newswire.

"We don't intend going into the election bleeding votes on the left."

The Green's media management was faster and smarter than Labour's under Shearer, and Cunliffe will have to turn that around for a start.

He must reverse perceptions that Norman is "the real leader of the opposition" which have probably arisen mainly because he's good at getting on TV.

When Prime Minister John Key said "Russel Norman is eating David Shearer's lunch" he got it right.

Cunliffe is going to be a much tougher customer and he's already thinking about how he'll accommodate the Greens in a coalition.

He initially said he was going to appoint a shadow cabinet of 15, but changed it to 20.

That was because he knows he's going to have to give up some of those positions and hand them to the Greens.

It's too early to be sure about whether Labour's leadership change is having a significant impact on voters.

There have been two opinion polls, published four days apart, and they showed different pictures.

The first, a One News Colmar Brunton poll, put Labour on 34 per cent, one point up, with National also up a point at 47 per cent.

That was business as usual, those figures have been around since the last election.

The second, a New Zealand Herald DigiPoll, showed a big jump in Labour's support - a gain of 6.8 points to 37.7 per cent. National slipped 5.1 points to 43.7 per cent.

With the Greens on 11.3 per cent, Labour and the Greens would be able to form a coalition government.

If the second poll becomes an established trend, the government is in serious trouble.

NZN

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