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FISHHEAD_HOKONUI MOONSHINEDav­id Cun­liffe should have been made Labour’s lead­er two years ago. We won’t dwell on why he wasn’t. You all know why.

The Any­one-But-Cun­liffe club was so anti-Cun­liffe they chose a man woe­fully out of his depth in Dav­id Shear­er and hoped he might be OK. He wasn’t. It was a dis­aster. And Labour lost two vital years.

But now that club is All-Bak­ing-for-Cun­liffe and swal­low­ing dead rats. And all the signs so far for Cun­liffe and Labour are prom­ising. At the time of writ­ing, Cun­liffe has not put a foot wrong.

He dealt with the reshuffle with aplomb. Reshuffles are the hard­est thing to get right. He kept the fac­tions happy and he didn’t deal to his intern­al enemies. He took a leaf out of Helen Clark’s polit­ic­al diary on that one.

He’s also sent a major sig­nal to the strug­gling provinces by appoint­ing him­self to the region­al devel­op­ment port­fo­lio at the same time. Many of the regions are cry­ing out for help. By tak­ing this port­fo­lio Labour is sig­nalling that it will take this issue ser­i­ously. It’s a smart move by Cunliffe.

On the eco­nomy he will match the Prime Min­is­ter. The elec­tion debates between the two prom­ise fire­works. There was also a clumsy attempt to dam­age him with claims his CV was embel­lished. It prob­ably was, to be hon­est – but the man­ner in which Nation­al Party hack Mat­thew Hooton attemp­ted to take Cun­liffe out was shrill and awfully inef­fect­ive. Cun­liffe dealt to him easily.

So what now? Labour needs to build on this start. One poll has showed it up to 37%. Cru­cially, this gain was at the expense of Nation­al, which dropped to 43%, and Labour didn’t take votes off its left-wing part­ner, the Green Party.

Cun­liffe has pitched him­self as left wing. I don’t believe he really is. He needs to con­trol the centre of polit­ics. Tak­ing votes off the Greens won’t get him into office; tak­ing votes of John Key will. And this throws up one more big issue. If Labour does get back into the game it means the next MMP elec­tion is going to be a close-run thing. One or two points will decide it.

So where does all this leave Win­ston Peters? I firmly believe John Key will keep his options open and not rule out Peters early next year. If Key is to get a third term he will need a coali­tion part­ner. Peter Dunne and John Banks bring noth­ing to the table. Key needs num­bers. Peters might just be his man, but he will play hard­ball – he owes Key nothing.

So if I were Cun­liffe, I’d pop down to the liquor store, buy a couple of bottles of top-notch whisky and invite Win­ston over for a few late nights before the next election.

Rela­tion­ships can make a dif­fer­ence in form­ing gov­ern­ments. It worked for Jim Bol­ger in 1996. Cun­liffe take note.

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