Hard News by Russell Brown


Team Little: pretty good

New Labour leader Andrew Little has announced his first caucus lineup and, with one or two questions, it would seem to be pointing the party in the right direction. A clearout of a few of the usual suspects is offset by the appointment of Annette King as deputy leader, but if any of the old guard warranted keeping on for the time being, it was King. She was composed and confident as acting leader and, crucially, has no designs on the top job herself.

Grant Robertson's receipt of the Finance portfolio (and third place in the rankings) seems to be a way of both harnessing Robertson's manifest political skill and of providing some continuity with the policy base developed by David Parker. Robertson has a learning curve ahead of him, but Labour doesn't have a lot of other talent in the area and the alternative -- rehabilitating David Cunliffe -- was clearly unacceptable.

Parker himself had clearly already got the memo, but his demotion to fifteenth place in the rankings seems nonetheless fairly brutal. On the other hand, his responsibilities (shadow Attorney General, Treaty negotiations, trade and export growth) are substantial.

Although Phil Twyford's senior placement, with responsibility for housing, transport, and (as an associate to Phil Goff) Auckland issues, the rankings themselves do not seem closely tied to conventional notions about portfolio seniority. They acknowledge two things: political talent (Robertson, Hipkins) and the plain fact of where Labour's support survived in this year's diificult election result.

Cunliffe comes in only a place above Parker, but -- perhaps ironically -- his bouquet of responsibilities  (regional development, tertiary education, R&D, science & innovation, associate economic development) constitutes the kind of shadow Steven Joyce role he might have had much sooner if his colleagues had felt better able to trust him. On the other hand, Su'a William Sio is ranked eleventh with a relatively light policy load, including "interfaith dialogue". 

I was unimpressed with the means of Little's victory last week, and I still think it's something he's going to battle with, but he was the candidate who faced the fewest impediments to enacting the clearout-and-refresh the Parliamentary party needed, and he has largely done that. Trevor Mallard, Clayton Cosgrove, Damine O'Connor and Clare Curran have been left to wander the wilderness of the unranked and there are four women and three Maori or Pasifika MPs in the top 10. I'm particularly pleased to see Carmel Sepuloni accorded such seniority.

I'm interested to see that some of those least happy with Little's election -- the likes of former MP (and strong Robertson supporter) Darien Fenton -- have been quick to express approval. I can see why, too. This is a pretty good first move by the new leader.

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