David Farrar gave it 7/10. Cameron Slater was less enamoured, although he has not quite indulged in the barrage of guffawing that one might have expected. Even left commentators who are satisfied with Andrew Little’s shadow cabinet lineup have praised it in measured tones (except at the Standard, of course). Yet at risk of indulging in the over-optimism that necessarily follows the bloodbath and lugubrious introspection brought on by an election drubbing, I think Little has played something of a blinder.
I’ve been putting the boot into Labour more or less since I started this blog, and I remain on balance pessimistic about 2017. But after a week without pratfalls and some quiet common sense, I feel duty-bound to get in behind, as it were. Let’s start with the good stuff: Silent T has been firmly relegated to 14th and a fistful of minor portfolios that will keep him occupied but out of trouble. It remains to be seen whether a man of such enormous
ego talent will settle for the snub, or just take the hint and depart. Either way I feel sure that someone will be on hand to, er, console him.
I was really expecting Little to offer more of an olive branch to Parker too, what with his fiscal experience, but it’s a warning to all those who decide to pack a sad and spit the dummy: in big boy politics, Mummy just might not be prepared to clean it and pop it back in your gob. Cosgrove, Dyson, Mallard et al, effective politicians though they no doubt are, should also have got the memo from HQ that change and rejuvenation is the order of the day. Their frontbench careers should be done, although Mallard would be an
outrageous awesome choice as Speaker.
Dealing with Mahuta could have been tricky – if it hadn’t been for her bloc of second preferences (or indeed Cunliffe’s post-pullout endorsement), Little would not have won. But by giving her the mana of a high list ranking (4) and the Maori portfolio where she can do little real damage, he has maintained his clever and ruthless approach. In a more positive vein, there are promotions for Hipkins and Kelvin Davis, acknowledging the latter’s only ray of sunshine in a bleak election, when he toppled the seemingly impregnable Harawira.
Which brings us to the apparent mistakes: King and Robertson. It is certainly a risk having a 30-year career politician as your Deputy, if you are trying to claim that Labour is serious about change, and a politician with no business and little fiscal policy experience at Finance, if you are serious about the economy, stupid. Then again, Little is only doing exactly what Key did in 2006 – keeping one of his party’s most talented politicians not only onside, but with almost as much power and responsibility as himself. All policy, unless it is pure social change, has a fiscal effect. And as for the supposed lack of economic nous, Michael Cullen’s CV was similarly threadbare in this respect, and he left us the Cullen Fund.
Best of all, Robertson will be too busy to sharpen any knives, hence the appointment of King. It’s claimed that it will only be for one year, but I can see it lasting up to the next election if the relationship works. King is a wise old owl and an effective performer, yet obviously without ambition, as she is possibly in her last term. She will deputise effectively in the House for Little, without ever outshining him in a way in which Robertson might have done. Furthermore, if Labour do manage to pull it off in 2017, they will have to do so in formal coalition with the Greens. After being jilted at the altar by Clark in 2002 and 2005, the Greens simply will not settle for mere confidence and supply. And King will happily give up her deputy role to Russell Norman or Metiria Turei. Finding Robertson another role would have been a real pain, and being deputy would be wasted on him anyway, as he already done it.
So, I’ll give it a 9. Not out of any boundless optimism – I’m still some way from pouring a double Kool-Aid into my evening nightcap – but because a cabinet shuffle can only achieve so much anyway, and I honestly can’t see what else he could have done.