Presland never applied for chief of staff position

Greg Presland has dismissed suggestions he applied for the job as David Cunliffe’s chief of staff.

When Matt McCarten was tipped for the position before the announcement on Wednesday Presland was also named as a possible candidate. The Dominion Post:

Labour is poised to announce lead roles in David Cunliffe’s office and a new election campaign manager, with former Alliance president Matt McCarten tipped to be in the running for a top post with his old rivals.

Other names mentioned in party circles for the pivotal role, as Labour tries to regroup after a run of bad poll results, included Mr Cunliffe’s top electorate official Greg Presland and a number of former MPs from both Labour and the Alliance.

This surprised a few people, including me, and the blogosphere being what it is Presland has copped a few digs.

He has stated at The Standard:

mickysavage

Just to clarify I never applied for the position and my being suggested as a candidate was a surprise to me and a shock to a close relative!

Confusion over McCarten’s role

Has David Cunliffe appointed Matt McCarten as his parliamentary office manager or a campaigner?There are mixed messages about the focus of McCarten’s role.

His official position is Chief of Staff in Cunliffe’s parliamentary office, paid for by Parliamentary Services. It is not a Labour Party position. Jadis at Kiwioblog says:

With clearly defined boundaries he won’t be involved in Party business.  Except that we know this isn’t the case when Cunliffe himself extols the virtues of McCarten’s organisation skills at the grassroots level.

Someone with extensive inside knowledge of Parliament told me:

Chief of Staff is a powerful internal position, but it is certainly not a campaigning one. It is paid for by the taxpayer and is therefore effectively akin to a public service role. Questions will certainly be asked if Labour uses it overtly as a campaign political role.

Right from the start this is a unusual appointment, as John Armstrong says:

As it was he called a press conference to announce it – an unprecedented move for what is usually a back room role. Certainly neither his previous appointment of Wendy Brandon nor Prime Minister John Key’s choice of Wayne Eagleson in the same role merited such drama. A short press release was all.

Greg Presland, who is close to Cunliffe in his New Lynn electorate and was suggested as a candidate for the Chief of Staff position, sent mixed messages at The Standard:

The reality is that McCarten’s position is an operational not a policy formation one.  His job is to make sure that the leader’s office operates effectively.

But also:

I have always been impressed by Matt’s ability to deal with people from a diversity of backgrounds.  He is affable and pleasant but has a backbone of steel, ideal characteristics for the role.  And his organisational abilities are very strong.

The decision is in keeping with David Cunliffe’s tendency to do what he thinks is right rather than safe.  With the party planning a mass movement on the ground campaign this year Matt’s organisational skills will have set him apart from the other contenders.  And the job is important.  Labour’s membership has surged over the past six months.  Organisationally there is a real need to get this new membership involved and working.  The best way to counter clear media bias is to have people on the ground talking to their neighbours and friends about why a change in Government is vital.

A strong campaign emphasis.

Prominent in blog discussions is talk of McCarten’s organisational and campaign strengths. His office and staff management abilities are hardly mentioned.

Cunliffe opened the media conference with a heavy emphasis on this year’s campaign.

Can I say that this is an important opportunity for us to reflect our values, that we are in this race to bring to New Zealanders an opportunity for a better tomorrow. For the kids to have a better future. For the parents to feel more secure about the future of their children.

And Matt McCarten’s life time of service to the cause of working people and the underprivileged is taking a new step forward today as he becomes the chief of staff in my office as leader of the Labour Party.

Presumably there aren’t many underprivileged people in Cunliffe’s office in Parliament, nor in the Labour caucus and their staff with whom the leader’s chief of staff is supposed to be working.

McCarten then spoke in a similar vein.

Well, nice to be here. As most of you know I’ve been ten years now sort of working for low paid workers, and as it always is the rules and the Governments matter to our people, that it’s a struggle for our people at the bottom. I have been, I’ve enjoyed that role, it’s my life’s work.

That in recent times when David Cunliffe as the new leader of the Labour Party, I think he’s given our people a lot of hope about what can be done. I have been pleasantly surprised of the direction he has taken the party in.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised the people he appoints on his front bench, he makes his decisions on merit.

We have got to know each other really well in recent weeks. We haven’t known each other which is surprising, and the chemistry has been extraordinary and we have a lot of similar beliefs, and I just thought this man could be the Prime Minister and should be the Prime Minister and that anything I could do to help a Labour led Government under MMP I will do.

So David offered me this role, which, ah, was, sort of surprised everybody, but when people have thought about it and say well it is a role that I think I can do well. I am committed to.

I spoke with my union executive late last night. They were delighted to a person. They were proud of the achievements we have done in Unite. They feel that I can move on and do this role.

And I will do the very best I can to fight for them in this arena and I’m looking forward to it.

In contrast another appointment, of David Talbot as Labour’s campaign manager, was given little fanfare or attention.

But it’s hard to escape the impression that McCarten has been chosen to campaign.

He talked about his “life’s work” but also “I’ve been ten years now sort of working for low paid workers“. He’s been thirty years working for political parties.

He began with Labour, split off with Jim Anderton to form New Labour in protest at Rogernomics, that merged into Alliance, then he became involved with setting up the Maori Party. And over the last few years he has been closely involved with the Mana Party, including standing as a candidate for them and be the party president.

The ‘Mana Movement’ makes it clear what they think of his appointment.

Headline: McCarten move signals unity to change the government – Sykes

Source: Mana Movement – Press Release/Statement:

Posted on February 26, 2014 by admin in Annette Sykes, Press Releases

“On behalf of the MANA Movement, I’d like to congratulate Matt McCarten on his appointment as David Cunliffe’s Chief of Staff”, said Annette Sykes, MANA President. 

“It’s great having someone we know is committed to the same broad goals as us leading Labour’s election strategy. 
“Matt is a committed campaigner for justice and human rights and, as part of that, he helped in the establishment of MANA as our inaugural President.

“Through the positive relationship he already has with us and the Greens, and now with Labour, we have no doubt his appointment will help build a strong and united coalition of the left to change the government. 
“This is great news”, concluded Ms Sykes.

“It’s great having someone we know is committed to the same broad goals as us leading Labour’s election strategy.”

Chief of staff or campaigner?

NZ Herald