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Little's leadership chances boosted by Cunliffe's withdrawal

Andrew Little has been given a big boost in the race to become leader of the Labour Party.

The former Labour leader has withdrawn from the contest and is backing Andrew Little. Source: 1 NEWS

He has now got the backing of David Cunliffe who pulled out of the contest this afternoon.

This leaves the former union boss, Wellington MP Grant Robertson and David Parker as contenders, with some talk David Shearer could still throw his hat in the ring.

ONE News political reporter Katie Bradford says Mr Cunliffe has been under pressure for the past few weeks to make this decision. But she thinks the final straw was Mr Little's inclusion in the race late last week.

Bradford says a lot of the union votes Mr Cunliffe relied on to become leader in the first place were going to go to Mr Little, and she thinks most of them will now go to Mr Little.

Bradford says Mr Cunliffe has also been on the phone to Mr Little, receiving some promises about the direction he would take the party in. She says the promises will be about things that Mr Cunliffe was passionate about, for instance helping Maori and Pacific Islanders.

She says she thinks this is the right decision by Mr Cunliffe.

Mr Cunliffe withdrew his challenge, saying: "I believe that another person is better able to unite the caucus and lead the party forward quickly at this time. And I'm therefore acting in what I believe to be the best interests of the party as a whole."

And he threw his support behind one of his opponents, saying: "I believe Andrew Little is the person who is best able to lead Labour at this time."

That's seen as boosting the former union leader's chances. In the last leadership race, the majority of affiliated union votes went to Mr Cunliffe, and those votes are now likely to go to Andrew Little.

"I'm not counting any chickens before they hatch. I think I've got plenty of work ahead of me," Mr Little said.

Former leader David Shearer is yet to declare his hand now David Cunliffe is out. He has until 5pm tomorrow to say whether he's in the race.