After being on the defensive for a week trying to deal with gaffe after gaffe David Cunliffe changed tack yesterday and tried playing the embattled martyr card – but his claims are contradicted by some obvious facts.
He started early on Newstalk ZB yesterday, responding to questions by Rachel Smalley:
Smalley: Do you accept though that it looks shonkey.
Cunliffe: I accept that there is a full scale assault against me and the Labour Party, and I would respectfully suggest that has something to do with what we stand for, which is a program of change that will bring a fairer better New Zealand.
Smalley: Where’s that assault coming from?
Cunliffe: I think that assault is coming from obviously from the National Party and no doubt from some people that support the National Party.
Smalley: There are stronger calls…there are strong calls now for you from some quarters to resign. Under what circumstances would you relinquish the leadership?
Cunliffe: Um I think that is a very very silly suggestion and I have had absolutely no conversations to that effect within the caucus I can assure you. This is a sustained assault on a political party by their political opponents, and I’m sure people can see it for what it is.
In Bruised Cunliffe bounces back on Stuff:
“Mate, that is just Wellington beltway politics,” he said yesterday. “Government has been trying to throw the kitchen sink at me in the last couple of weeks just to discredit me.”
Earlier in the week the Labour leader admitted the late disclosure was a lapse of judgment but yesterday he said: “They are threatened by the ideas that we are bringing to New Zealanders. Everybody gets a chance, not just the few at the top. I guess the guys at the top, they don’t like that because they think they are going to pay for it and so they are really trying to take me out.
“Well, they can try but I am tougher than that.”
There’s a problem with this approach – it doesn’t stack up with all the facts. “A sustained assault on a political party by their political opponents”? “Government has been trying to throw the kitchen sink at me”?
Over the last week there have been four significant embarrassments for Cunliffe.
- Criticising Key for living in a flash house in a leafy suburb when Cunliffe lives similarly. And claiming to have a middle income when his own household income is estimated at $700k.
This was initiated by Cunliffe attacking John Key, not the Government attacking Cunliffe. Journalists seem to have spotted glaring hypocrisy for themselves.
- The revelation that Cunliffe used a secret donations trust for the Labour leadership contest.
Where did this story originate? Claire Trevett seems to have been first in NZ Herald on Monday – Cunliffe used agent to take donations for campaign – and appears to have been promoted by the deadline for filing pecuniary interests on Friday.
There is no evidence and no specific claims that National started this story. That seems unlikely. There have been claims it came from information from inside Labour.
- The news that Cunliffe failed to disclose a savings trust in his statement of pecuniary interests on time last year, and made a late disclosure at the time David Sheare’s non-disclosure of a bank account was in the news.
This is the least serious – several other MPs were also prompted by Shearer’s embarrassment to improve their disclosures. Patrick Gower says he initiated this story, with colleague Tova O’Brien checking the register. Journalists doing what journalists do.
- The sending of an IT policy document and notes of a Cunliffe speech to IT minister Amy Adams.
This was initially misreported. Clare Curran took the blame and later claimed media “had not listened to what she had said” but her story didn’t stack up.
Bizarrely the following day Curran said that while the email was sent from Cunliffe’s office she decided she should take responsibility. “I think a member of Parliament or minister or whatever should take responsibility. Nobody forced me to do it.” There’s been credible claims Curran was thrown under a bus by Cunliffe (or Matt McCarten) and she stoicly copped one for the team.
Curran also said “We stuffed up yesterday. Let’s hope today’s better.”
It’s easy to label opposing parties as the culprits – and there has also been a lot of blaming of the media. But when it’s pretty obvious these are mostly own goals by Cunliffe and Labour trying to divert the blame lacks credibility, adding to rather than detracting from their embarrassments.
Cunliffe seems to find it difficult to say “We stuffed up”, or his political advisers are telling him it wouldn’t be a good look. But making hollow accusations isn’t a good look either.
Cunliffe started by presenting himself as Saviour. He has moved on to Martyr. Is the next step Crucifixion?
And will his own party be his Judas, or will the condemnation come from the voters?