Cunliffe: no pre-election deals; insider: deals under the radar
"If Labour throws Te Tai Tokerau to the imp, I can see it producing a Maori backlash against the party in other seats"Featured comment
Yesterday, I praised Laila Harre's strategic nous. I spoke too soon.
It looks like she has gone too hard, too early and too publicly, painting Mr Cunliffe into a corner where he had little choice but to back his man in Te Tai Tokerau (naturally, Labour leader maintains it was never in doubt).
Pre-election deals are off the table, the Labour leader tells NBR.
However, a well-placed insider says, "All deals are going to be under the radar, for now at least. They won't be acknowledged, but they will still be very real."
Less than 24 hours after being named Party leader, Ms Harre was dropping heavy hints that Labour should throw the Maori seat, where its candidate Kelvin Davis is running hard.
Internet-Mana's strategy hinges on Mana leader Hone Harawira holding the electorate, allowing other MPs to come in on his coat-tails even if the newly combined parties poll under 5%. Mr Davis is polling ahead (the school principal became an MP earlier this month when, as first-drop on Labour's list, he replaced the retiring Shane Jones. He says becoming a list MP hasn't dented his electorate ambition).
There are wheels within wheels, of course. In 2011, Labour threw a lot of resource behind Mr Davis, and he ran a close second to Mr Harawira. The party could ease back on the throttle this time around without particularly drawing attention amid the wider craziness of Election 2014.
Remember that commentator Bryce Edwards saw Mr Cunliffe as open to deal in the Northland electorate, but also very wary of a growing voter backlash against "dirty deals"). A softly, softly approach was likely. No doubt Ms Harre will work her close link with Mr Cunliffe's chief-of-staff Matt McCarten (the two worked together for The Alliance).
A second question is whether Labour goes easy in Wairiki, held by Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. The Maori Party could be wiped out if Mr Flavell fails to hold the seat, Mr Edwards says.
Here's what Mr Cunliffe had to say to NBR last night:
CK: Bryce Edwards says you would be open to doing a deal in Te Tai Tokerau. What's your response?
David Cunliffe: We’ve been really clear that our approach to seven Maori seats is that we’re contesting both the party vote and the electorate vote.
Kelvin Davis is a very strong candidate in Te Tai Tokerau and he’s going to be campaigning hard to win the seat.
CK: Are you willing to rule out doing any deal before the election?
DC: Yes, we have said, I’ve said repeatedly that the rules of approach we have to all of these issues is campaign for the Labour party vote and the electorate vote. We think having a strong Labour Party is the core of the next government We will then see how the public express their views, who they send to Parliament after the [September 20] vote, and my door will be open to anyone who wants to change the government.
At that point I wouldn’t rule out working with any other party of similar policy direction, but we’re making no pre-election commitments or deals.
CK: Including no deal for a candidate in any electorate to stand down or not campaign hard?
DC: Kelvin Davis has been in the media all day today making it very clear he’ll be campaigning hard for Te Tai Tokerau and that’s appropriate.