Former Labour party president Mike Williams says David Cunliffe is down but not out, despite his embarrassing demotion to the backbenches.
The astute political observer believes there is nothing to stop the aspiring leader from grasping the top job in time.
"I don't think it's mortal damage. You can always come back, you can perform well from the back bench, and he's a good performer in Parliament.
"He also has a good electorate organisation. The people of New Lynn are very loyal to him and he's a hard-working local MP.
"I just think he's got to bide his time."
But for the moment, Mr Williams believes he has a "close to zero" chance of securing enough support when the next leadership spill is held in February.
"I think Cunliffe brought all of this on himself.
"He overplayed his hand and what he did looks to an outside observer as sheer opportunism, so for the moment he'll just have to retreat to his electorate in New Lynn.
"I don't see any other way that David Shearer could have handled the situation.
"He accepted a 40% vote for Cunliffe would have provoked a spill so he had to move and establish his authority."
Asked whether he believed Mr Cunliffe could become more electable than David Shearer, Mr Williams said:
"Who would have thought in 1996 that the great discovery of the election campaign would have been Helen Clark.
"I think she doubled the party vote during the campaign, but a discovery, for God's sake?
"I mean, she had been minister of health and housing in the Lange government, she'd been deputy leader of the party, deputy prime minister and suddenly she was a discovery.
"You just don't know how people will shine in campaigns or how they won't. The campaign environment is totally different to normal."
Mr Williams say Mr Shearer has had a year to sell himself to the party membership and "he's done quite a good job of that".
"I attended a Te Atatu LEC meeting earlier this year and he was there in jeans and an open neck shirt, he was relaxed and he had all of us in the palms of his hands.
"So I think the earth has moved under David Cunliffe and I don't think he realised that.
"But as far as sending him to the back bench, I think that's risky.
"The next poll will probably show a decline in Labour voting intentions, but the Shearer people can easily put that down to the machinations of the Cunliffe group so they can survive that.
"But I think what they've got now is a situation where they've got at least one MP who will be working towards a Labour defeat, and that could be a worry."
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