David Cunliffe and the media

I am ever so greatly annoyed at the role the news media played in the demotion of the Labour Party member of parliament David Cunliffe.  David is a long-time friend of mine, so I will reflect a bias in my opinion, and politics is a dirty game and the motivations of any parliamentarian are always hard to read.  But I haven’t talked with David since his demotion to the back-benches on Tuesday, thus what I write is not in any way reflective of his opinions about anything, though, I am sure if the whole Labour caucus hadn’t been muzzled, he would have a few opinions to share.
What annoys me is the leading question that the news media put to David Cunliffe over the weekend.  It went something like, ‘Will you continue to endorse the leader come February?’ (when the Labour caucus always have a vote on their leadership).
Why should he have to take a question like that?  How is he meant to answer?  If he says No, but by the time February rolls around and people ask him to make a bid, is he to be bound by his answer the previous November?  If he says Yes, then he is effectively being forced to make a bid for the leadership immediately, as if he wants to, or has been asked to, or thinks in any shape or form that it is the appropriate time.
In my view, the leadership of a political party is not a given for any incumbent – things do change over time, and they should.  Is it the media’s business to conjure such things or even create the timing for them if they are to be made?
It is no secret that David Cunliffe has sought the leadership of the Labour Party, that was quite obvious a year ago, and neither is it a secret that he has a body of support behind him.  And it might even be that he would contribute a lot in such a role.  But that does not equate to it being appropriate to have to act on that possibility at the media’s convenience.
In my view, the media overplayed their hand.
I wonder if they asked any other contenders whether they would rule out standing in February?  For instance, it is one thing for Grant Robertson to state in November that he is fully behind the leader, but should he be bound to his current viewpoint if in February it appears a good idea to make a bid?  Of course not!  Neither should David Cunliffe be called on his thoughts and even aspirations three months away.
From what I have seen and heard, David answered honestly.  He supported his current leader and couldn’t rule out that he would feel the same way three months later.  How is he to know the nature of the political landscape in the future?  Who knows it?  If the current leader, David Shearer, continues to poll lowly, Labour do face a real challenge.  It should be an open process to gain the best possible outcome for the party.
But what has happened as a result is that the next most likely challenger for the leadership, Grant Robertson, has an unfair advantage.  He has not been stripped of his portfolios and relegated to the back benches.  Why?  First and foremost because of the media’s intrusive conjuring.
It is very disappointing, and I hope not the end of the road for one of our brighter politicians.


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