David Shearer's reshuffle of his Labour team will be on
the radical side. It has to be.
His current front-bench is simply not cutting it. National
has had a difficult year. But most of that party's problems
have been self-inflicted, such as fiddling with teacher-pupil
ratios, have flowed from unpopular policies such as asset
sales, or have been beyond the party's control, such as
donations to John Banks' mayoral campaign.
Labour has caused National few difficulties. It needs to lift
its game and put the Government's weaker ministers on notice.
That would be the case for any Opposition party nearing the
end of the first year in the three-year electoral cycle. But
Shearer needs to get more out of his line-up to make up for
his inexperience as Leader of the Opposition.
On top of that, the return to Parliament of Winston Peters
and the Greens' adoption of a far more media-focused strategy
mean Labour is facing a daily struggle for coverage - and
therefore public profile - which was previously the major
Opposition party's as of right.
Shearer has made no secret of his intention to review shadow
portfolio responsibilities and caucus rankings after his
first 12 months as leader. He will probably announce the
reshuffle following Labour's annual conference next month,
giving allowing those handed new responsibilities time to get
up to speed before the first sitting of Parliament next year.
Nanaia Mahuta, Labour's education spokeswoman, is likely to
be tipped off the front-bench.
Shearer is known to believe education is a portfolio where
Labour should be making all the running and making life
intolerable for Hekia Parata, an increasingly accident-prone
minister. But Labour isn't.
A big questionmark also hangs over Shane Jones, who has been
sidelined for four months while the Auditor-General Lyn
Provost investigates his granting of citizenship as a
minister in the last Labour Government to a Chinese
millionaire despite Internal Affairs advising him against
Senior whip Chris Hipkins is a strong contender for
promotion, and Shearer might be tempted to elevate impressive
new MPs such as former party president Andrew Little and
Dunedin North's David Clark to Labour's second bench.
Shearer will be conscious that reshuffles create enemies. For
that reason alone, David Cunliffe, who Shearer defeated in
last December's leadership ballot, will remain on the front
His talent is too valuable to squander. Shifting him would
destabilise the Labour caucus and buy a fight the leader does