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An Open Letter To David Cunliffe

by James Macbeth Dann

Dear David,

I want to first congratulate you on the campaign you ran. You gave it your all, and did well in the debates. I was deeply disappointed in the result that Labour got on September 20th - but I’m sure no-one feels it more personally than you do. It is in your response since that result that I have to disagree with you.

In the last leadership contest, I supported Grant Robertson, and I intend to again this time. However, once you won, I gave you my full support. I was one of the key organisers of the 2013 conference in Christchurch, which was your first big event as leader. I volunteered on the Christchurch East by-election campaign, including a couple of times when I was your driver for the day. I enjoyed talking with you in a personal capacity, away from the spin and the advisors. Through this year’s campaign in Ilam, I appreciated having you here in the electorate, and in wider Christchurch. We had a good walkabout at Bishopdale Mall. I ran interference on Gordon Dickson for you. Good times.

I gave my campaign everything, and I am sure that you did the same. We ran a two ticks campaign in Ilam. All our material had “Party Vote Labour” proudly on it. We delivered tens of thousands of pieces of paper with your face on it. But the reality, the hard truth, is that people in the electorate just didn’t connect with you. I lost count of the number of times I door knocked someone who told me they had voted Labour all their life, but wouldn’t vote for us as long as you were leader. People who would have a Labour sign - but not one with your face on it. While those examples are strictly anecdotal, the result on election night isn’t. It’s unavoidable. It’s practically the worst result in the Party’s history.

I can’t imagine how that feels. I know you’re an ambitious guy, that being Prime Minister is something that you’ve probably dreamed of since you were a kid. I know what that’s like; I’ve entertained those thoughts myself. You’ve been closer than most people will ever get. But you’ve had your shot. The Labour Party isn’t a vehicle for you to indulge your fantasy of being Prime Minister. While you might think that it’s your destiny to be the visionary leader of this country, the country has a very different vision - and it doesn’t involve you.

It’s time for a new generation of leadership in the Labour party, one that is closer in both age and understanding with the people it needs to represent. It’s not just time for Grant, but also for people like me. I think I did a good job in a very difficult electorate, and would like to build on it at the next election.

However, I won't be part of a party that you lead. Not because I don’t like you, but because I simply don’t want to lose again. That’s the reality David. The people of New Zealand don’t want you to be their leader. The comparisons that you and your supporters have thrown up don’t hold water - you aren’t Norm Kirk and you aren’t Helen Clark. You’re David Cunliffe and you led the Labour Party to it’s most devastating result in modern history.

So I’ll promise you this. If you win, I’ll step aside from the party, to let you and your supporters mould it into the party you want. But in return I ask this: if you lose this primary, you resign from parliament. In your time in opposition, we’ve had you on the front bench, where you let down your leader at the most critical point of the 2011 campaign. You ran for leader and lost, then destabilised the elected leader. Then when you got your chance as leader, you led Labour a party that was polling in the mid-30’s to one that sits firmly in the mid-20’s. There is no place for you in this party anymore.

Kind regards and best wishes for the future,

James Macbeth Dann

James Macbeth Dann was the 2014 Labour candidate for the Ilam electorate.

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