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Gordon Campbell on the Labour reshuffle

Gordon Campbell on the Labour reshuffle

By Gordon Campbell

Like a dog with a bone, the media can’t seem to let a good angle about the Labour team reshuffle die without a fight. It has to be a story of blood and vengeance, whatever the evidence to the contrary. In fact, you could make the exact reverse case - that David Cunliffe really has made the promotions/demotions on merit, as promised. Isn’t Andrew Little a better shadow Labour Minister than Darien Fenton? Hasn’t Cunliffe extended an olive branch to his arch critic Chris Hipkins by promoting him a couple of places and giving him a prime shadow portfolio, Education? Doesn’t Cunliffe himself know a whole lot more about ICT than Clare Curran?

For someone supposedly arrogant, Cunliffe has handed out significant jobs to his defeated rivals (Shane Jones, Grant Robertson) and rewarded loyal supporters Sue Moroney and Nanaia Mahuta, but not lavishly. Moroney, who has already been elevated to chief whip, advances only a couple of places above her previous ranking and is sensibly positioned opposite Paula Bennett on Social Development, with Louisa Wall - another winner who merits elevation after her skilful promotion of the same sex marriage bill through Parliament and among the wider public - as her associate. For the under-rated Moroney, that elevation seems a fitting reward for a year in which she’s championed pay equity and an extension to paid parental leave (both being core Labour issues) and landed more hits on the government than some of her more highly touted colleagues. Cunliffe himself has taken on an interesting mix. Security and Intelligence of course, but also his old ICT stomping ground - an area that he knows back to front from his time as Telecommunications Minister - and regional development issues as well. Thus, Mr Metropolitan Auckland will be taking responsibility for issues facing provincial and rural New Zealand, which should be a useful platform for Cunliffe for the 2014 election.

Putting Shane Jones directly opposite Steven Joyce on Economic Development is a good move, and will require Jones to lift his work rate. The apparent losers are obvious enough. Clare Curran has been the main one, and drops to the back bench. Jacinda Ardern drops a couple of places, but only to make way for Shane Jones and Annette King - who keeps Health, and is the main (and the most able) survivor of the old guard. David Clark’s fall down the ladder is not all that surprising, given that his rise under David Shearer had been excessive. (Shearer himself takes foreign affairs from Phil Goff, and falls to 13 in the shadow rankings.) As Cunliffe said, Clark is talented, and more will be heard of him in future. Unfortunate though to see someone as able as Phil Twyford (and the Auckland issues he represents) lose a few places. The old guard - Phil Goff, Trevor Mallard, and Clayton Cosgrove who drops a couple of places - are being eased out of the way, but without being humiliated. Plus, in a recognition that Labour has to compete/strategise with the Greens on some issues, water issues have been split off again (as they were once before under Brendon Burns) from economic development issues, and given to Meka Whaitiri who will also be working with Cunliffe as associate regional development shadow minister. She can use both those posts to promote links with iwi (with Nanaia Mahuta) and work on water quality with/against the Greens. All up, the reshuffle makes the most of Labour’s limited pool of talent.

But in what direction is Labour shuffling? Oddly enough, The Guardian yesterday asked much the same question of the party led in Britain by Ed Milliband. And it observed:

Of course any assessment of Labour's fortunes depends on what you think is feasible. If it's simply to mitigate the worst effects of free markets and to slow the rate at which the poor get poorer and the planet burns, I suggest you look away now. But if your desire for Labour's purpose is more transformative – to change the country and build a good society...

Unfortunately, the chap in The Guardian didn’t have a clue about how a Milliband-led Labour Party in Britain might go about the transformative task. Beyond hinting perhaps, that a financial transaction tax (which Labour in Britain has backed away from) might be one way of combatting the power of the multinationals and their demands for “free” markets, ever lower taxes, and ever greater “flexibility” to fire and hire without strings, their ever cheaper work force. As always, it is far easier to slag the centre left for its complicity with neo-liberalism than to devise a credible alternative economic policy, or a viable political strategy for conveying it.

Probably, Cunliffe now has until the Labour annual conference in November to devise a coherent template for a post Third Way, post-GFC, post neo-liberal set of economic policies. Not a long time. Still, if he hasn’t yet got the answers, Cunliffe at least seems equipped to ask the right questions. And Labour hasn’t had someone with that ability in the top job since 2008.


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