Cunliffe has caucus on the mind

03:58, Sep 17 2013

The first showdown between new Labour leader David Cunliffe and Prime Minister John Key during Parliamentary Question time was billed as Parliament's main event.

But after a long couple of days trying to unify a divided caucus, Cunliffe may have had other matters on his mind.

Asking Key questions about ultrafast broadband supplier Chorus, Cunliffe twice tried to grill him over discussions with the company's chairman about the Government's controversial so-called copper tax.

"Why, following the call from the chair of caucus . . ." Cunliffe started, before being greeted with jeers from the Government benches.

After Parliament's Speaker David Carter called the House to order, Cunliffe tried again:

"Why following the call from the chair of caucus . . ."

There were bellows of laughter from Government MPs.

"Let's see whether National is as happy with the second half of this question," Cunliffe said menacingly.

But the moment was lost.

Key already had his answer in hand.

"I do get a phone call from my caucus but they all voted for me," he replied

"I can only imagine what the phone call is like from Trevor [Mallard] in San Francisco at the moment."

Mallard was demoted as Leader of the House by Cunliffe this morning and was widely seen as the leader of a group of MPs who worked in the past year to keep Cunliffe out of the leadership.

New Leader of the House Grant Robertson, who missed out in the leadership contest to Cunliffe, tersely told Key to "get on with it".

That set Key off again.

"Labour Party members did get on with it and they said they didn't want you Grant," the prime minister said.

Cunliffe stoically carried on with his questions about ultrafast broadband but the momentum was lost.

Eventually he had a crack at Key, suggesting the ultrafast broadband "botch-up" was "the end of [Communications] Minister [Amy] Adams chances of succeeding him as prime minister."

That gave Key the chance for a final put-down.

"I really don't think our caucus is looking for a new leader but after Question Time today the Labour Party might well be," he said.


Fairfax Media