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Gordon Campbell: the Labour re-shuffle, Mt Albert

Gordon Campbell on the Labour re-shuffle

The Labour re-shuffle of its front bench and shadow portfolio areas is an understandable move. Six months into a new leadership, senior figures such as Michael Cullen leaving….it is all very timely. Also, the May 28 Budget will be a defining moment for the Key government and Goff needs to have his strongest team in the right configuration, to take advantage of Labour’s first opportunity to land some lasting blows on the government.

The full list can be found here.

Intrinsic ability is one thing, but it matters who you will be marking. Trevor Mallard’s return to the front bench was inevitable, and his past experience in Education will pit him against one of the weakest performers on the government front bench in Education Minister Anne Tolley. Chris Carter must regret having to swap the chance to mark a sitting duck like Tolley, for the harder target of Foreign Affiars Minister Murray McCully.

As Rugby World Cup spokesperson though, Mallard will hardly be in a position to hammer the government over the multi-million waste of taxpayer dollars that this tournament now seems doomed to incur. The Cup after all, is Mallard’s baby. The elevation of Shane Jones in the Economic Development and Environment areas though is a smart move - and most of the other appointments seem sensible enough.

The main drawbacks ? Well, what can anyone do with George Hawkins ? Even so, Goff’s solution – to give him Local Government – is a truly terrible idea. Local Government Minister Rodney Hide is one of the polarizing figures in NZ politics, and Hide clearly has big plans to rationalize local government, and to slash jobs and services at local and central government level. You can guarantee that Hide will be in the headlines for the next two and half years – so why on earth has Goff chosen to mark Hide with Hawkins, possibly Labour’s absolutely worst performer on television ?

One can only hope that Hawkins is only warming the seat until David Shearer can take his place. Local government would be a cinch for a guy like Shearer, long used to picking his way through the bureaucratic thickets of the UN. More to the point – the Auckland Supercity issue is one of Labour’s strongest cards against the government. Shearer, after being blooded on this issue during the Mt Albert by-election, would be an ideal, reasonably telegenic option for Labour in Auckland.

Even if that is not the longer term game plan, one has to feel sympathy for the other option not taken here. Namely, Grant Robertson - a highly talented guy, who would be a far better foil for Hide on local government and public sector employment. Hawkins needs to be found another post. Now, that Racing portfolio doesn’t seem to have been taken...

Mt. Albert

The clambering to the candidacy in Mt Albert of National list MP Melissa Lee over the carcass of local perennial Ravi Musuku, should just about bury any charges that Shearer is parachuting into the election, as the head office pick. Who isn’t? At least Shearer has lived there, and has owned and maintained a house in the electorate for many years.

So far, Lee has pinned her hopes on vote splitting on the centre left, courtesy of Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman. I’m not sure that is going to happen to any marked degree. This is solidly ‘two ticks’ territory. While Helen Clark got 20,000 votes at the last election, the Labour list vote wasn’t far behind, at nearly 15,000. This simply isn’t one of those electorates like Epsom, where the list and electorate votes are wildly out of sync, and ripe for capture.

The shadow lying between now and the by-election is the May 28 Budget. Both Norman and Shearer can expect to score heavily if the Budget is remotely as grim as Finance Minister Bill English has been painting it – but then, given that the Greens home insulation plan is likely to feature prominently in the Budget plans, the Greens’ new proximity to National may prove a double edged sword on the hustings. The risk in virtually gifting the Key government with what seems like the best idea around for combatting the economic crisis has nothing to with the merits of the home insulation scheme – and everything to do the risk of looking like the think tank and enabler of a centre right government.

Luckily, as a counter weight the Greens will also have the Waterview Connection tunnel featuring as a local issue in Mt Albert. On roading and public transport, there is potential for splitting the centre left vote – but not enough to give Ms Lee much chance of prospering.

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