Reshuffle: The not-so-winners
In my last post, I identified the new Top 10 in Labour’s caucus. While some of them, such as Jacinda Ardern have been moved around a bit, overall they have all come out of this reshuffle as winners.
There are some clear losers in the reshuffle as well, and I will get onto those later. However, there are a group of MPs who, while they were not put into Andrew Little’s top leadership team, have still earned a caucus ranking and important portfolio positions.
Many eyes were on David Cunliffe in this reshuffle. It was widely predicted that Cunliffe would be relegated to the backbenches, in a move by Little to distance himself from the former leader. Instead, Cunliffe now finds himself at Number 14, with the Regional Development and Tertiary Education Portfolios.
David Cunliffe is one of the most able people in the Labour caucus right now, and his abilities should give him a front bench position. However, it is understandable why he finds himself just off Little’s Top 10. It would be dangerous for Little to bring Cunliffe too close right now. As a former leader, indeed a leader who led Labour to their most comprehensive defeat in almost a century, Cunliffe is incompatible with the ideas of renewal that the new Leader desperately needs to implement in caucus. Indeed, former leaders David Shearer and Phil Goff have also found themselves in the same position as Cunliffe. However, Cunliffe’s demotion has been tempered with his retention of the Regional Development Portfolio, and his acquisition of the Tertiary Education portfolio. In the parting shot of one of the most deliberate and comprehensive media campaigns to undermine of a politician that has probably ever been seen in New Zealand, news reports on Cunliffe today have said that these are undesirable portfolios that prove Cunliffe is in disgrace. However, that is anything but true. Regional Development and Tertiary Education are both very important positions, and ones that David Cunliffe will thrive in. Regional Development is one that Cunliffe chose for himself as leader, and subsequently released some solid policy in, particularly in Labour’s Economic Upgrade. As for Tertiary Education, it provides the heavy hitting Cunliffe with an opportunity to take out Steven Joyce. On the campaign trail, I witnessed David Cunliffe talking to students both inside and outside of Labour, and taking in what they said. As a student, I can’t think of anyone I’d like to have in the Tertiary Education portfolio that David Cunliffe. If Cunliffe can do to Steven Joyce what he did to Nathan Guy when he was relegated to the Fisheries Portfolio, then he will prove his continued effectiveness as one of labour’s greatest assets.
Former Deputy Leader and Finance Spokesperson, and leadership contender David Parker has found himself at 15th, with the portfolios of Trade, Attorney-General and Treaty Negotiations. Following his unsuccessful leadership bid, Parker ruled himself out of retaining the Finance or Deputy positions, and possibly ruled himself out of retaining a front bench position in doing so. Parker’s unwillingness to retain Finance could have made it that much easier to find a spot for Grant Robertson that reflected his influence within the Party. It could just be though, that David Parker has had enough. It’s strange that, despite his generally accepted strength as Finance spokesman, Parker is the only one of the failed leadership contestants that has not got a front bench position. It could be another example of Little distancing himself from past leadership teams, or it could be that Parker has hinted that he won’t be sticking around the Party for too long. Potential resignations have been speculated upon since the election – could David Parker be considering throwing in the towel? It’d be a shame to lose David Parker. He’s been Attorney General before and could do a good job of it again. It seems to be a fairly niche position that generally sits outside of the rest of the Politics that goes on in Parliament, something that David Parker could be very good at, just as Chris Finlayson is now.
On the whole, David Shearer and Phil Goff remain in comfortable positions in 16th and 17th respectively. While Shearer has retained his Foreign Affairs portfolio, one that he performs very strongly in, it was somewhat of a surprise that he isn’t closer to the front bench. This could again be Little’s reluctance to associate too much with past leaders – perhaps David Shearer will climb higher in the next round of caucus reviews.
Phil Goff has found himself with a variety of portfolios including Auckland Issues, Ethnic Affairs and Defence that seem to suit him perfectly. Goff is a veteran MP and still useful to have around, which is probably why he remains a ranked caucus member. However, the former leader is one of those that voices calling for renewal focus on most, and his ranking could be a nudge towards the door from Little. It’s very interesting that Goff has picked up the Auckland Issues portfolio from Phil Twyford. One of the rumours swirling around Goff is that he may run to be Mayor of Auckland in the next lot of local body elections. Could Goff be preparing for that with his new Auckland portfolio?
Sidenote – Phil Goff would be a great Mayor of Auckland.
Su’a Williams Sio has been treated respectfully, falling one place short of the Top 10. At 11, Sio retains Pacific Island Affairs and also holds Local Government and Associate Housing, with a focus on South Auckland. Sio is a good advocate for Labour in the Pacific community, and it is no coincidence that his seat was one of the few where Labour held strong in the Party Vote last September. It’s important that Sio continues to hold a good position within the Labour caucus as an acknowledgement of this vote.
Iain Lees-Galloway is also in a solid position, now at 12 and holding the Labour portfolio. Lees-Galloway has done well to hold a marginal rural seat in Palmerston North since the departure of Steve Maharey and has managed to score some hits on the National Government over the last few years. However, it’s important to remember too, that he has always managed to back the right horse in the leadership elections. He jumped from Robertson to Cunliffe at first, but then in the week leading up to Cunliffe’s resignation appeared in the news counselling him to step down in favour of Andrew Little. He seems to have some fantastic political nous, or maybe he’s just got lucky. Either way, he is a strong performer and will do well in most positions. The Labour portfolio is one that could be important in future if National’s recent tea-break law is any sign of what is to come, and Lees-Galloway should do well in it.
Megan Woods has done very well from this reshuffle, and should possibly be included as a ‘winner’. She has not been particularly visible before, but her Number 13 rank and acquisition of the Environment and Climate Change portfolios could see her start to make a splash in Parliament. She’ll be up against Simon Bridges, who is generally unpopular and has some frankly ridiculous views on the Ministries that he now leads, and so Woods should be able to score some good hits and prove that it was wrong to under utilise her in the past.
Andrew Little has done well to ensure that some of the stronger politicians in the caucus retain important portfolios, despite being lower down in caucus. This is particularly true for David Parker and David Shearer – both with strong portfolios. It’s a very good move from Little to show that their ranking in caucus isn’t necessarily an indication of their value to Labour, while rewarding fresh blood and high performance in his Top 10.
Next up: The Losers