Hooton on Little’s re-shuffle

Matthew Hooton comments at NBR:

[M]aybe there is hope that struggling Labour leader Andrew Little along with his economic whizz Grant Robertson and social policy guru Carmel Sepuloni will yet grow into transformational figures, showing talents entirely imperceptible in the combined 20 years they have already spent in Parliament.

Perhaps, as Mr Little hopes, his shadow cabinet announced this week gives us a glimpse of the shape of a real one in just 22 months.

The only glimpse we have seen is that Labour’s talent pool is as shallow as a carpark puddle mid-January.

That?s the charitable interpretation of Mr Little?s reshuffle announced on Monday.? In reality, at this stage in the electoral cycle before the 2008, 1999, 1990 and 1984 changes of government, a sense of inevitability had already emerged.

By the end of 2006, Ms Clark?s government was deeply embroiled in its pledge card and Taito Phillip Field scandals while Mr Key was already perceived as prime-minister-in-waiting, having radically repositioned National back to the centre in his first weeks as leader.

At the end of 1997, Ms Clark had been the assumed next prime minister for more than a year, the Asian Economic Crisis was set to slow the previously outstanding levels of economic growth, and a panicked National had handed the prime ministership to Jenny Shipley in an attempt to close the gender gap.? Michael Cullen and Steve Maharey were clearly understood and respected as the economic and social policy czars that Mr Little believes he can see in Mr Robertson and Ms Sepuloni. ?

Looking back further, at this time before Mr Bolger became prime minister, Richard Prebble had been sacked, Roger Douglas was in open warfare with Mr Lange and on the brink of resigning, and Jim Anderton was preparing to leave the government to form his NewLabour Party.? Everyone knew that Mr Bolger would soon be prime minister, Don McKinnon his deputy, Bill Birch his right-hand man and Ruth Richardson his finance minister.? The next tier of likely ministers was being aggressively promoted in the media.

Similarly, at the end of 1982, we were more than six months into Sir Robert Muldoon?s wage and price freeze, the country was in a deep recession, the brain drain was accelerating, and Mr Lange was set to make the 1984 change of government certain by taking over the Labour leadership from Bill Rowling that summer.

None of those situations exists today, and John Key’s government is sailing in clear waters.

Again, perhaps Mr Little, Mr Robertson and Ms Sepuloni will surprise us but the current political situation just doesn?t seem anything like those which have previously led to a change of government.? If anything, there seems to be an inevitability about another gruesome Labour election debacle.

Can he beat David Cunliffe’s record?

This is not to say Mr Little isn?t trying.? There were some good things about his reshuffle.? Has-beens Trevor Mallard, Ruth Dyson and David Cunliffe have all been ritually humiliated as a signal it is time to find new jobs.? The same message has been sent to never-will-bes Clare Curran, Kris Faafoi and Rino Tirikatene.? It is right that more dignity has been given to temporary deputy leader Annette King.

They won’t find new jobs because the jobs they have are the best they will ever have.

More substantially, the education portfolio is no longer split and has been reunified around Chris Hipkins, recognising the crucial importance of the transition from secondary school to higher education.? Phil Twyford has been recognised for his Chinese-sounding-names stunt.? Kelvin Davis has been given the promotion he has earned for his stance on Christmas Island and Nanaia Mahuta the demotion she so richly deserves for contributing nothing since first being elected to Parliament nearly 20 years ago.

Poll favourite Jacinda Ardern has been given a light workload so that she can concentrate on her media profile.? Labour?s right wing has adequate representation in the shadow cabinet with Clayton Cosgrove, Stuart Nash and Peeni Henare all sneaking in on the bottom rung.? As noted, while we know that the left-leaning Mr Robertson and Ms Sepuloni are expected to do the heavy lifting in economic and social policy, the right-wing David Shearer will be responsible for foreign policy.? To remove ambiguity over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Mr Little has appointed an opponent of the deal, David Clark, to look after trade, replacing the pro-TPP David Parker.

One day, perhaps all these people will be famous.? More likely, given Labour?s fundamentally flawed brand, you?ll never hear of most of them again.? And even if Mr Little makes it to the prime ministership, nearly half his team will have to make way for ministers from the Greens and New Zealand First.? The announcement of the shadow cabinet is of some passing interest to political junkies but no one else needs to bother with it.

The re-shuffle will be forgotten in about two weeks when parliament shuts down and all the troughers head for the beach.

But hey, Andrew Little went sky-diving.