Just when David Cunliffe seemed to be in a position to gather some serious momentum, revelations have surfaced about his use of secret trusts for receiving political donations during last years leadership contest. The scandal is being painted as a major blow for his credibility, and for his chances of leading Labour to victory later in the year.
Major damage to Labour and Cunliffe
Cunliffe’s critics are using the donations revelations to challenge the Labour leader’s credibility, personality and authenticity. For the harshest version of this, see Duncan Garner’s Is David Cunliffe a fake? He asks an array of challenging questions about what’s been going on with Cunliffe’s political finances, but even more harshly he suggests that Cunliffe’s whole political persona is contrived: ‘I’m starting to wonder just who Cunliffe is. What does he stand for? Is he anti-business or pro-business? Does he care about the poor? Or hang out with the rich? My big question really is this: Who is the real David Cunliffe? Is he a fake?’ You can also listen to Garner’s 5-minute elaboration on this on RadioLive.
Others are pointing to this gaffe as an indicator of Cunliffe’s inherent personal flaws. John Armstrong says, ‘That he cannot seem to stop his fingers hovering over the self-destruct button is no surprise to anyone who has watched him for any length of time. It is a great mystery why someone overly blessed with essential political attributes gets it wrong with such frequency. Maybe it is overconfidence. Maybe it is an inability to see the line between being bold and being foolhardy’ – see: Two Cunliffe mea culpas in four days smacks of clumsiness.
Today's Dominion Post challenges Cunliffe on a number of aspects relating to his gaffes, saying that ‘errors of judgment usually reveal deeper issues of character or attitude’ – see: It's all a matter of trust. The editorial concludes: ‘He needs to decide who he really is and what he stands for…. Above all, Mr Cunliffe needs to be clear where he stands. Does he stand for transparency and openness, or doesn't he? If he does, he should never have had anything to do with the trust’.
Unsurprisingly, Matthew Hooton has gone on a major offensive against Cunliffe, suggesting that the scandal could bring the leader down: ‘Were National to press the nuclear button, with a full-scale privileges committee inquiry into this latest issue, this would surely be the last nail in Mr Cunliffe’s political coffin. Mr Jones would then be required to step up. But that is almost certainly not going to happen. No one gains more than Mr Key from the disingenuous Mr Cunliffe remaining in his role until the election, now expected in September’ – see: Secret trust last nail in the coffin for Cunliffe? (paywalled).
David Farrar has also been applying harsh scrutiny to the issue in blog posts such as Cunliffe’s secret trust and Will Cunliffe’s donations be revealed? Farrar says that the ‘stench of hypocrisy is massive’, and that ‘If any Labour MP or candidate now tries to campaign on better electoral finance transparency laws, they’re going to be laughed at’.
Of course, that’s the line we expect rightwing commentators to take, but crucially this minor scandal really does have the potential to damage Cunliffe’s reputation with the left. This is because it challenges his leftwing credentials, as well as his authenticity. His use of the plutocratic-friendly blind trust mechanisms is completely at odds with the left’s view of how political funding should be carried out.
This is best illustrated by the fact that the harshest criticism of Cunliffe’s actions can be found on the leftwing blogsite, No Right Turn. The first post, David Cunliffe: Unethical, accuses the Labour leader of donation ‘laundering’ and says he’s failed a major test on trustworthiness: ‘by failing to tell us who he owes political debts to for financing his leadership ambitions, David Cunliffe has clearly failed that test and is unfit to be in Parliament, let alone a party leader’. A second post, A win for transparency, says that Cunliffe’s values and his response to the scandal becoming public are unacceptable: ‘Which is just sociopathic "sorry I got caught" bullshit. The thing about values is that you live them, and they're instinctive. Cunliffe's aren't. When faced with a choice between transparency and corruption-enabling secrecy, he chose the latter, and then tried to cling to that choice when it was questioned. These are not the actions of an ethical man who believes in open politics - they are the actions of someone trying to get away with something they know is wrong. And actions like this are yet another example of why the New Zealand public thinks all politicians are liars, cheats and scoundrels’.
So will this scandal really damage Cunliffe and Labour? According to David Heffernan’s blog post, 2014 National win stock on iPredict, Labour’s chance of winning the election appears to be slipping away. See also, the NBR’s How long will Cunliffe last? iPredict punters' surprising pick.
For other accounts of Cunliffe’s mounting gaffe-count, see Vernon Small’s Cunliffe: Three months, three gaffes and Larry Williams’ Larry's Memo: 4 March. And for the best overall account of the trust scandal, see Claire Trevett’s Cunliffe comes clean over donations.
In Defence of Cunliffe
The main argument in defence of Cunliffe’s secret trust has essentially been to point out that the National Party utilised such trusts too (before they were outlawed for political parties). You can see Cunliffe making this argument in his TV3 interview this morning: Cunliffe turns tables in donations saga. For further defences see Labour spin-doctor Rob Salmond’s blog, Untidy and unnecessary. Also see The Standard’s How short are memories?
However, The Standard’s reputation is also being lowered by this political finance scandal. Like Cunliffe, this blogsite might well be accused of hypocrisy. After all it was one of The Standard’s leading bloggers, Greg Presland (using the pen-name Mickey Savage) who railed against the use of trusts on The Standard, but was then the key person setting up Cunliffe’s mechanism for hiding donors.
The other major line of defence is to say that the scandal is a beat up and simply reflects the rightwing bias of the media – see Martyn Bradbury’s Latest msm Cunliffe feeding frenzy over donations.
Labour is fortunate that another political finance scandal has broken out, this time putting pressure and questions onto the Government – see Brook Sabin’s TV3 report, Collins says Oravida visit not conflict of interest. The Standard raises some further good questions about this in the blog post Collins and Oravida.
Divisions within Labour?
Some commentators are suggesting that the scandal represents deepening divisions within the Labour Party. Certainly questions are being asked by many as to who in Labour might have leaked information on Cunliffe’s trust, with the implication that some on the right of the party are retaliating over Matt McCarten’s appointment by Cunliffe. For the best example of this, see Rob Hosking’s NBR column, David Cunliffe and the Myth of Trust (paywalled).
In a lengthy analysis of the divisions within Labour, Hosking ponders the eventual breakup of Labour and the establishment of a new left party involving McCarten. While that seems fanciful, his speculations about leaks within Labour are certainly interesting: ‘How Mr Cunliffe’s own caucus will react to this is anyone’s guess. If the track record is anything to go by, they will hunker down, try to hang onto their seats and quietly feed ground glass into the political water supply of Mr Cunliffe, Mr McCarten, and anyone who supports them. The trust revelations over the past 24 hours show a big chunk of ground glass has already been released, and done some damage. These leaks came from within Labour, and from Mr Cunliffe’s enemies, of that you can be sure’.
Another person that thinks Shane Jones might be rising to the occasion is rightwing blogger Matthew Beveridge – see his post, BBQ season on social media: The warning signs of a leadership challenge? For more such Twitter analysis, see Beveridge’s latest post, MPs on Twitter: Trevor Mallard.
Labour’s ICT blunder
To add to Labour’s reputation for gaffes, internal policy documents about Labour’s information, communications and technology policy were accidently sent to Cabinet Minister Amy Adams – see Isaac Davison’s Labour accidentally leaks own policy details. As detailed in this report, one of the most interesting revelations from the leak, was that ‘Curran's document outlined plans for policies called KiwiMap, KiwiCode, KiwiCall, KiwiCap, KiwiCloud and Kiwis Come Home’.
For more in-depth analysis on this, see the NBR’s Broadband strategy doc by Labour's Clare Curran accidentally sent to Amy Adams and Hamish Rutherford’s Labour plans for free computers.
Unsurprisingly, Cunliffe’s critics are taking the chance to link the ICT policy with the identity of Cunliffe’s major financial donors – see Cameron Slater’s How much of Labour’s ICT policy did Dotcom write? He says that ‘My sources inside the grounds of the Dotcom Mansion tell me that these proposals were the exact ones discussed with Dotcom, indeed promoted by him and that extensive meetings were held after Curran’s two visits to the mansion to discuss them and flesh them out’.
The State of the Labour Party
There is plenty of other debate at the moment about the health and state of the Labour Party. In terms of ideology, Chris Trotter argues that the party isn’t necessarily going to the hard left – see: A lurch not to Left, but to sanity. Rob Salmond puts forward the evidence against the Labour Party moving to the left, and shows why a move to the right or centre makes more sense – see: Lurches this way and that. And Liam Dann argues against Labour becoming too unorthodox on economic policy – see: Labour must drop monetary madness.
Labour’s candidate selection is getting a lot of coverage at the moment. See Benn Bathgate’s Can Coffey break McClay's hold on Rotorua?, and John Drinnan’s TVNZ bias probe stalls Labour's candidate nod.
But David Farrar points out that incumbent Labour candidates aren’t facing much competition – see: Only one Labour MP facing a challenge. And in some electorates there are problems finding candidates – see Matthew Littlewood’s Labour has no runner and Peter O’Neill’s Anyone out there?
It’s going to be fascinating to see who wins the Christchurch Central nomination for Labour. For details of the two apparent candidates, see Keir Leslie’s Christchurch Central Selection. And one of the candidates, James Dann explains Why I’m running to be the Labour candidate for Christchurch Central.
Also in terms of the Christchurch rebuild, Labour has announced a new policy – see Jody O’Callaghan’s Labour bids for 'fed up' claimants. But The Press newspaper is unimpressed, and says Labour needs to lift its game.
The McCarten appointment
Over the weekend there was plenty of very good analysis of the appointment of Matt McCarten as Cunliffe’s ‘left-hand-man’. McCarten himself wrote about this in his final column for the Herald – see: Now for something similar .... Other commentaries are all well worth reading – see: John Armstrong’s McCarten taking on one of politics' trickiest jobs, Matthew Hooton’s Cunliffe keeps promise to far left (paywalled), Rodney Hide’s Fence-sitters watch out, Fran O'Sullivan’s Good keen Matt to get Labour moving, and Colin Espiner’s Let's do the (politics) time warp.
Finally, for some interesting social media commentary about Cunliffe and Labour, see my blog post Top tweets about David Cunliffe’s Labour leadership trust fund.
Dan Satherley (TV3): Cunliffe turns tables in donations saga
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Key: Cunliffe's leadership a 'shipwreck'
Duncan Garner (RadioLive): Is David Cunliffe a fake?
Vernon Small (Stuff): Cunliffe: Three months, three gaffes
Rob Hosking (NBR): David Cunliffe and the Myth of Trust (paywalled)
Matthew Hooton (NBR): Secret trust last nail in the coffin for Cunliffe? (paywalled)
Claire Trevett (Herald): Cunliffe comes clean over donations
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Cunliffe to repay anon donors
Rob Salmond (Polity): Untidy and unnecessary
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Cunliffe’s secret trust
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Tech mogul donated to Cunliffe
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The Patrick Gower Hour of Power
Simon Wong (TV3): Cunliffe: Leadership trust a mistake
Pete George (Your NZ): Cunliffe’s trust and 3 strikes
Dominion Post: Editorial: It's all a matter of trust
Vernon Small (Stuff): Cunliffe's worst day
Claire Trevett (Herald): Cunliffe apologises for using trust
Duncan Garner (RadioLIVE): Is David Cunliffe a fake?
Larry Williams (Newstalk ZB): Larry's Memo: 4 March
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): About trusts
Keeping Stock: Cunliffe's lapse of judgment
Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about David Cunliffe’s Labour leadership trust fund
The Inquiring Mind: Five little letters
Andrew Geddes (Pundit): For there are three that testify … and these three agree
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Strike Three
Isaac Davison (Herald): Labour accidentally leaks own policy details
Simon Wong (TV3): Labour sends ICT policies to minister
The Standard: Silver linings
Pete George (Your NZ): Has Curran been thrown under a bus in snowballing SNAFU?
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Dann on Labour’s monetary madness
Chris Trotter (Stuff): A lurch not to Left, but to sanity
Rob Salmond (Polity): Lurches this way and that
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Only one Labour MP facing a challenge
Matthew Littlewood (Stuff): Labour has no runner
Adriana Weber (Herald): Tamati Coffey faces candidacy fight
Radio NZ: Labour delays naming candidate
Peter O’Neill (Timaru Herald): Editorial: Anyone out there?
Rob Salmond (Polity): Brownlee climbs high horse; falls off.
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Brownlee hits back after 'political manipulation'
Matthew Beveridge: BBQ season on social media: The warning signs of a leadership challenge?
Ali Romanos (NZ Lawyer): Colin Craig's defamation suit “bound to meet scorn”?
Vernon Small (Stuff): Craig presses ahead with defamation action
Isaac Davison (Herald): Colin Craig to limit his defamation claim
Radio NZ: Craig taking limited defamation action
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Colin Craig to split defamation case
Briar Marbeck (TV3): Greens plead for defamation donations
Simon Wong (TV3): Colin Craig in for a fight for McCully's seat
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Craig proceeds with defamation suit against Norman
Greg Presland (The Standard): Colin Craig does not want to disclose his view on gays
Pete George (Your NZ): Fundraising for defamation case – Green on Green
Vernon Small (Stuff): McCully to campaign vigorously
Isaac Davison (Herald): I've nothing to hide in my emails: Craig
Pete George (Your NZ): Were National ever going to help Craig?
Adam Bennett (Herald): Unanimous backing for McCully stance on Ukraine
John Armstrong (Herald): Ukraine crisis puts Russian free-trade pact on hold
Dan Satherley (TV3): Expat Ukrainians 'appreciate' NZ's stance
Siobhan Downes (Stuff): Ukrainians in NZ worried, anxious
Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): The Cold War all over again
Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On our response to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine
The Standard: NZ independence? back to the future
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A message from Vladimir Putin
Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Political Report: A Royal Visit
Matthew Backhouse (Herald): Key: Prince's $1m visit 'value for money'
Radio NZ: Maori King defends royals rejection
Newswire: Maori King blasts Royal visit officials
Brook Sabin (TV3): Collins says Oravida visit not conflict of interest
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Collins and Oravida
Claire Trevett (Herald): Judith Collins accused of potential conflict of interest
The Standard: Collins and Oravida
Newswire: Asbestos trains need quarantine – MP
Radio NZ: Minister defends KiwiRail over asbestos
Simon Wong (TV3): Brownlee to meet KiwiRail over asbestos tests
Nicholas Jones (Herald): Train teachers in schools: report
Jo Moir (Stuff): Performance pay report sparks row over author
Newswire: Four new schools to be built by PPPs
Rebecca Quilliam (Herald): No change to religious instruction policies
Colin James (ODT): Now for a generational change in education
Alan Wood (Stuff): Subcontractors want law change on losses
Ganesh Nana (Pundit): Is global economy really on the mend?
Brian Scott (NZCPR): Controversy Surrounds the Living Wage in New Zealand
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Guest Post: 85% OF TAX REVENUE COMES FROM THE PRIVATE SECTOR
Muriel Newsman (NZCPR): Regulating Wages
Waikato Times: Bigger fish to fry than Mathers
Pete George (Your NZ): The Mojo story and a Masterton coincidence
David Fisher (Herald): Spy agency slow to put fixes in place
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): So how many times have you gone onto Facebook and Twitter boasting about poaching?
Lynn Prentice (The Standard): National’s ICT failures.
Danyl McLauchlan (Dim-Post): Internet Party Watch
Radio NZ: Peters questions Maori heritage plans
Louisa Wall (Daily Blog): Maori – the original guardians of the RMA
Stuff: ECan review gets under way
Andrea Vance (Stuff): From SAS to court boss
Talia Shadwell (Stuff): Minister calls for crackdown on wreckers of state houses
Tim Hunter (Stuff): Empty seats, empty pockets
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Stopping the double dippers
Radio NZ: Greens aim for Cabinet seats
The Ruminator: A question for our readers
Russell Brown (Hard News): Diverse Auckland: are we there yet?
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Returning the DVDs
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Pokie numbers down 13% since 2008
Chloe King (Daily Blog): Combating the stigma around mental health
Russell Brown (Hard News): Drugs, development and reality
Matthew Beveridge: Does this look plausible?
Katherine Stewart (Ruminator): Won’t somebody think of the children (for real)?