Reshuffle: The Winners

Some surprises in Andrew Little’s new lineup, and some less expected changes.

Before you read, you can see the full lineup here

Obviously, one of the biggest talking points is Grant Robertson taking on the Finance portfolio. This is a hugely important role, and will see Robertson occupying the most influential in the party, other than the Leader. David Parker managed this portfolio very ably, and Robertson will have to live up to that. I think that he will, regardless of his lack of experience in Finance. As many have been quick to point out, Michael Cullen studied History and was one of the best Finance Ministers that New Zealand has even seen. Grant has an intellect to match Cullen and a real head for policy. We should expect to see some solid finance policy come from him in that position. Robertson is quick witted and a powerhouse in Parliament, and will hopefully tear some holes in the snide Bill English. It’ll be interesting to see what happens between him and Andrew Little over Capital Gains Tax, which Robertson supports and Little seems happy to review. Of course, Robertson being given Finance also acknowledges his continuing position as the most influential player in caucus, and his strong showing in the recent Leadership election. Interesting to see that one of the best strategic decisions of Helen Clark has been echoed in Little promoting his main contender for the Leadership into the second most influential position in the Party.

Annette King as Deputy Leader makes a lot of sense. She’s been around and knows the party and brings with her the experience necessary to steer the ship when Little is away. She seems like a no nonsense type of operator, and the Labour caucus desperately needs a leadership team that is not afraid to bash heads together. They say that the Deputy Leader needs to be committed to working long long hours doing all of the nitty gritty admin things, and King seems like the right person for the job. A very uncontroversial decision.

Finding Nanaia Mahuta at Number 4 is unsurprising. Mahuta is a senior caucus member, and I think the leader of the Maori Caucus. Her performance in the election, and then as a leadership contender was solid. Talking to Mahuta during her leadership bid, I was impressed to hear her lay out what her strategy was to take back the Maori seats during the election, and how she thought that could be applied to the rest of New Zealand. She is a good strategist, but will need to overcome the view that she doesn’t do much in her portfolios if she wants to justify her Number 4 spot. This view possibly contributed to the fact that she is not Deputy Leader now, something she might be disappointed with. Or maybe she didn’t want it – it’s not something there’s much point speculating about.

Phil Twyford is one of the most able and competent MPs in caucus and thoroughly deserves his promotion. He’s lost the helm of his Auckland Issues portfolio to Phil Goff but will continue to manage Housing and Transport effectively, hopefully scoring some big hits along the way. Housing is one of the issues that Labour polls strongly in, and there’s no one better than Twyford to lead the charge on it.

The same with Chris Hipkins. He hits hard on Education, and it’s good to see the Senior Whip taking a seat around the table with the Leader. Hipkins’ promotion is also possibly another hand being extended to Camp Robertson, although this is not to suggest that Hipkins is not able. He puts serious heat on the Government, and engages really well with the Education sector. He’s definitely the best person Labour has for Education and has been promoted accordingly.

The elevation of Carmel Sepuloni and Kelvin Davis to the front bench is one of the more surprising results of the reshuffle. While it’s important to remember that neither of them are complete newcomers, having been in Parliament between 2008 and 2011, they have only just returned to caucus after losing their seats in 2011. Evidently, Little has identified them as rising stars in the party and reflected that in his front bench. Sepuloni has been handed a huge job with Social Development, but one that matches her background in assisting in development for Pacific people. Labour has not hit hard in Social Development since 2008, and Paula Bennett has run rampant. If Sepuloni can knock some holes in new Minister Anne Tolley then Labour can reclaim dominance in an area that it should really be the go-to party of anyway.

Kelvin Davis is someone that people seem to really like, and his promotion could reflect this popularity. He fought hard in Te Tai Tokerau and won the seat from Hone Harawira against the odds, demonstrating that he’s a capable campaigner. His Police Portfolio comes with the additional ‘Domestic and Sexual Violence’ Portfolio, which I think is a huge step in the right direction for Labour. It’s interesting that this new portfolio has been given to man, but it works well with Kelvin’s new Police responsibilities. As well as this, Davis has been incredibly vocal on the topic of sexual violence – it’s really one of his major issues. Having Davis, who most likely comes off well to ‘Waitakere Man’ speaking on the issue could also mean that men will pay attention.

The promotion of Sepuloni and Davis has come at the cost of Jacinda Ardern’s high caucus position. Ardern sits at Number 9 and has lost the Police Portfolio to Davis, which must sting to Grant Robertson’s prospective Deputy. However, she has picked up the important Justice portfolio. It’s heartening to see, in a lineup largely devoid of women (5 of 17) that Ardern has picked up a heavy hitting portfolio. Ardern is very very popular both inside and outside of Labour, and could be the perfect person to continue Labour’s attacks on the very suspect record of the National Party in the Justice Portfolio. Seeing her poke holes in Judith Collins would have been immensely satisfying, but now she’s up against Amy Adams, who will definitely be harder to pin on anything due to a cleaner record.

David Clark’s promotion to Economic Development also suggests that Little is on the lookout for new blood. Clark has often been identified as a rising star in Labour, and his experience in the area of Economic Development shows that Labour’s economic credentials don’t go out of the window with the departure of people such as David Parker from the front bench. Clark should perform well in this portfolio – he held it under David Shearer for a bit, so is no stranger to the enormous role. If he manages to challenge Stephen Joyce effectively then he could cement his front bench position for a long time to come.

While there have been some demotions around the front bench, overall the aforementioned MPs are all winners in this reshuffle, with all holding important portfolios and positions in Labour. The elevation of Sepuloni, Clark and Davis shows that Andrew Little is bringing some renewal to the party. It seems that Little has also put considerable thought into his top team, with most, if not all of them holding portfolios that correspond to their interests and abilities. Little has also demonstrated that he is not afraid to cull some of the less effective or disruptive MPs. Clayton Cosgrove, for instance, is conspicuous in his absence from the Top 10.

Overall, Andrew Little has given himself a highly capable new team that matches experience will highly skilled newcomers. His solid choices in his leadership team round off what has been an exceptionally good first week in the job, and herald an optimistic 2015 for the Labour Party.

Next post: Labour’s middle and backbenches

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One thought on “Reshuffle: The Winners

  1. To be fair, Cullen had his PHD in economic history which may of helped him more. That said, a large part of the Finance portfolio is not necessarily economic expertise, as he will have advisors for that. More of it is about just being a strong opponent for English in the house which Grant should be able to do. Also, a lot of Finance is just sort of common sense and policy experience, which Grant also certainly has. Will be interesting to see how he does…here’s hoping for some solid policies!

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