How will Cunliffe start 2014?

I hope that NZ Labour leader David Cunliffe had a restful Christmas holiday. After a gruelling leadership contest, closely followed by a by-election campaign, party conference and referendum campaign, it is safe to say that he really worked his guts out in the tail end of 2013.

And he should be pleased with where things are at. Christchurch East, despite looking dicey on paper early on, delivered a very strong result for Labour. Neither the party conference or referendum campaigns were disasters.

He will surely be glad to have these off his shoulders so he can get down to the real business off the day: defeating National.

While the last few months have seen a slight improvement in Labour’s fortunes in the polls, certainly enough to keep the wolves from the door, there is still much to be done to take the treasury benches. It certainly seems that Cunliffe has managed to shore up Labour’s base, taking votes from coalition partner the Greens, but is yet to inflict any dents in National’s support base, still polling in the late 40s.

Early 2014 will involve a lot of internal work for David Cunliffe. He will have to be involved, hopefully indirectly, in many electorate selections; and of course the mammoth task of building the party list is already underway. However, we should expect fairly smooth sailing on both those fronts so I’d only expect to see any of the internal machinations of either bubbling into the public arena should things start to go very, very wrong.

David Cunliffe needs to continue to look competitive, and the only way he can do that is if he can start to take votes from National supporters. I’d say it is fairly likely that he will attempt to snatch the political agenda in late January or early February with a “state of the nation” type speech. The only way that this will be a worthwhile endeavour for him will be if he has some new policy initiatives to announce. Given the hard left rhetoric we saw in the Labour leadership contest, I’d expect to see something like the re-nationalisation of Chorus, or a massive spend up on public transport. How he’ll manage to get either past David Parker remains to be seen.

Regardless, David Cunliffe starts 2014 in a good position. He’s a smart operator and if the hype is to believed, should be able to gain the political initiative from National very shortly.

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