By Alex Tarrant
David Cunliffe says he is "not at liberty to comment" about Labour Party leader David Shearer's move to demote him from the front bench after Shearer sought and gained an endorsement of his leadership from Labour's MPs.
Speaking after an urgent caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon (listen to the audio below), Cunliffe said there were comments he would like to make after the day's events. But asked what he would like to say, Cunliffe repeated, "I'm not at liberty to comment," to media questions.
A journalist asked: "So you'd like to make some comments, but you can't;" Cunliffe replied: "Correct. I'm not at liberty to comment."
Asked whether he had been asked to not comment to the media, Cunliffe repeated, "I'm not at liberty to comment."
Shearer received a 100% endorsement from his caucus and demoted Cunliffe after speculation arose over the weekend that Cunliffe would mount a leadership challenge next year.
Shearer called an urgent caucus meeting and leadership vote by MPs for this afternoon to try and stub out Cunliffe's chances of triggering a leadership run-off in a scheduled confidence vote in February.
Cunliffe was today demoted from number five on Labour's front bench to the back benches for the instability caused after he would not say during the weekend whether he would endorse Shearer in February.
Shearer said he would announce a new economic development spokesman in coming days to take over Cunliffe's portfolio.
Read the release from Shearer's office below:
Labour Leader David Shearer has today received the unanimous endorsement of his caucus.
“I called MPs together because I want any speculation or doubt about my leadership to be put to rest. That has now happened. I enjoy the confidence of my caucus today and going forward.
“Labour is a team. We’re here for New Zealanders and that’s bigger than the ambitions of any single individual. Any impression of division distracts us from that task. We must work together in the interests of New Zealand.
“This weekend, I laid out a bold plan to take New Zealand in a new direction, to reignite our stalled economy and to deliver a fair go to all New Zealanders. Our new KiwiBuild scheme will put 100,000 families into their first home. It’s an ambitious plan, but one that I’m determined to see implemented.
“To do that, I need a caucus that is fully behind me. Sadly, David Cunliffe has not been able to show that loyalty. His actions at the weekend were disappointing, not only to me but to many Party members. That, along with his repeated failure to quell speculation about the leadership, means that I no longer have confidence in him. He has lost my trust.
“That is why I have taken the decision today to demote David Cunliffe from the front bench to the unranked section of the caucus. I have also removed his Economic Development and Associate Finance portfolios from him. I will announce replacement spokespeople in the next few days.
“After the leadership contest last year, I publicly expressed my support for David Cunliffe and appointed him to the front bench as a sign of my respect for him and desire for us to work together. I regret having to take the action I have today, but he has left me with no alternative.
“David Cunliffe is a talented MP and it is possible there is a road back for him. But I would like him to take the time to reflect on his ability to play a part in our team. I have also left the rest of my caucus in no doubt that we need to pull together.
“Today is about moving forward and putting division behind us. In order to change people’s lives we need a change of government. That’s the change I’m focused on.
“New Zealanders quite rightly expect that we will focus on their ambitions, not our own. And on the issues that matter most to them - jobs, housing and education. That’s what my team will do,” said David Shearer.
Labour Party MP David Cunliffe's recent actions had been destructive for both himself and New Zealand's interests, fellow MP David Parker said before the caucus meeting.
See Parker's comments in the video above.
Parker said he expected a final resolution to the Labour Party leadership issue today. He did not think uncertainty would carry on until February.
"I think the numbers are very clear," he said.
Asked what he thought of David Cunliffe's actions over the weekend, Parker said:
"Destructive. Of himself and New Zealand's interests."
'Get behind the leader'
Meanwhile, MP Clare Curran said the Labour Party sometimes had fights out in the open.
“Some things had to be said, in the last few days. They’ve been said. Now it’s time to get behind closed doors and sort it out.”
Curran said it was important speculation about the Labour Party leadership ended today.
Asked if she had any advice for Cunliffe, Curran said:
“Get behind the leader and do the job that he’s paid to do.”
The situation was not a media beat-up, Curran said.
“There’re issues that need to be addressed. They’re being addressed, and once they’ve been addressed we can move on.”
Vote at 4pm; Demotion looms
Labour MPs have been arriving at Parliament for an urgent caucus meeting at 4pm called by leader David Shearer.
Shearer is asking the caucus to endorse him as leader after speculation mounted during the party's conference at the weekend about a challenge by former leadership challenger David Cunliffe, the party's economic development spokesman.
Labour is set to hold a leadership confidence vote in February under new rules voted for by party membership at the weekend conference. Under the new rules, if the leader does not gain the votes of '60% of MPs plus one', a leadership run-off can be triggered.
The leadership vote is then decided by a system which gives 40% of the vote to the caucus, 40% to party membership, and 20% to affiliated unions.
It was expected Cunliffe would try to get 13 other MPs (the caucus has 34 MPs) - the amount needed to trigger a run-off - to vote against the current leadership at the February vote.
By calling a vote today, Shearer is trying to stub out the possibility of that happening. He is expected to demote Cunliffe from number six on the caucus list to the back benches.
Also, see MP Sue Moroney's comments on the vote in the video below. Moroney was reportedly in the 'Cunliffe camp' during last year's leadership run-off between Cunliffe and Shearer.
'I always support the leader the party elects'
Moroney said she would be endorsing David Shearer in the vote today.
“In fact, no one else has actually asked me to endorse them for the leadership vote," she said.
Asked who she would be endorsing in February, Moroney replied:
“The party has asked us to make a decision about the leadership in February, and I’ll be consulting party members in my area before I make that decision, so I can’t answer that question.”
Asked whether she would have supported David Cunliffe today if asked to, Moroney said that was a hypothetical question.
“I haven’t had any approach since the last time we voted on the leadership issue from anyone in our caucus to endorse them for the leadership. The first person to ask me to do that is David Shearer today, and he’ll be getting my endorsement," she said.
Asked whether she was ruling out supporting Cunliffe in February, Moroney said:
“I’m not ruling anything in or out because I’m going to be consulting party members in the Waikato region, and for that reason, I can’t give an answer.”
“The party have made a decision over the weekend that has asked the caucus to make a determination about that in February. I’m going to be trusting the party on this issue and supporting them in their wish to have a say on the leadership, going forward, in our party," she said.
“I’ve always said that I’m loyal to the leader of the Labour Party. That stands now, as it always has done. I’ve been a party member for 25 years. That has always been the case and it’s never changed.”
“I’m going to be consulting party membership," Moroney said.
“I’m loyal to whoever the leader of the Labour Party is at the time, and that continues. I’ve had that position for 25 years. That’s not going to change," she said.
“When the party makes a decision on who its leader is, I always support that person. That’s always been my position.”