Labour leader Andrew Little’s caucus reshuffle appears to have passed the big test that his strategists set which was for it to allow him to be seen stamping his authority on the caucus.
And he did that by largely ignoring Labour’s sometimes byzantine factionalism and instead promoting (and demoting) on merit.
Two of the big demotions — Nanaia Mahuta and David Cunliffe — were undoubtedly intended to signal to those MPs that their futures were more likely to be outside Parliament.
Much of what was announced had been flagged privately some time ago by the Little team to journalists and therefore wasn’t surprising.
But what was slightly surprising was the way some of the veterans of the old “anybody but Cunliffe” faction have kept their seniority.
The standout decisions were:
- Phil Twyford replaces Nanaia Mahuta as Number Four in the caucus.
- Nanaia Mahuta slips to 12.
- Jacinda Ardern jumps from 9 to 5.
- Kelvin Davis goes from 8 to & but is now the highest ranked Maori MP and spokesman for Maori Development.
- David Parker goes from 15 to 11 but loses Trade which goes to David Clark. Parker picks up Environment.
- The biggest loser – apart from Nanaia Mahuta is former leader, David Cunliffe who has gone from 14 to being unranked.
Below the top 12 Shadow Cabinet Ministers and two whips are another 10 unranked shadow cabinet ministers.
This group includes several members of the “anybody but Cunliffe group” – David Shearer, Damien O’Connor, Clayton Cosgrove and Stuart Nash— as well as new MPs, Jenny Salesa and Peeni Henare.
The whole unranked group will find themselves in something of a Ministerial idol — promotion to an assured Cabinet position will depend on performance.
And Mr Little emphasised several times during his media briefing yesterday that performance would be largely measured by work rate.
Thus Phil Twyford and Jacinda Ardern had been promoted partly as a “reflection of their hard work”.
Asked if Ms Mahuta’s performance had played a part in her demotion, Mr Little said the promotions above her “reflects those who have worked hard” – a hint at frequent suggestions from within Labour that Ms Mahuta was not a hard worker.
Labour’s strategists apparently told Andrew Little that he had two key opportunities to define his leadership this year.
First was the party’s annual conference three weeks ago which was almost universally judged a success.
And then he needed to follow that with a reshuffle which would show not only that his role as Leader was now uncontested but would show what a Little Government might look like.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of yesterday was that the scars from last year’s leadership contest appear to be healed.
Grant Robertson remains as Finance spokesperson and Mr Little referred to the importance of the Commission on the Future of Work which Robertson heads.
Mr Robertson is also getting his own economic researcher which should assist his ability to tackle the Government with detail rather than the generalities he has been employing.
David Parker, though he has lost his trade portfolio, has picked up Environment which means he will work closely with one of his leadership supporters, Phil Twyford, on the whole RMA reforms with Twyford’s role as both Auckland and housing spokesperson.
It’s easy to see why Mr Parker has lost his trade role.
Though Labour’s TPP policy remains as vague as ever, Mr Little yesterday emphasised how closely he and Mr Parker had worked on it.
Their fundamental bottom line is that no matter how much ducking and diving they might do over restricting overseas house purchases they would be unlikely to pull out of the agreement.
But the party’s anti TPP left might find Mr Clark (and the new associate trade spokesperson, Megan Woods) easier to believe than Mr Parker who many would regard as far too pro-TPP.
Though he is in the unranked Cabinet group, Mr Shearer has kept Foreign Affairs and Mr Little indicated he will take over defence if Mr Goff becomes Mayor of Auckland.
As far as the Chamber is concerned, Labour’s front row will change very little.
Ms Mahuta will be gone and in her place will be Megan Woods. Otherwise it will the same line-up as before: Mr Little; deputy, Annette King; Grant Robertson; Phil Twyford; Jacinda Ardern; kelvin Davis; David Clark and Megan Woods.
One matter that ought to worry Labour is how many of its Maori and Polynesian MPs have been deemed by Mr Little not up to promotion to Cabinet.
Rino Tirikatene, Poto Williams, Louisa Wall and Adrian Rurawhe are all in the unranked backbench group alongside Mr Cunliffe and long serving MPs Trevor Mallard and Ruth Dyson.
But Mr Little yesterday endorsed Mr Mallard as a future Speaker and since he is already an assistant speaker, he could hardly take a major spokesperson’s role.
But Clare Curran, Kris Faafoi and Ruth Dyson (all of whom hold electorate seats) might wonder how much longer their careers can continue.