Labour to broaden front bench make-up

By Derek Cheng

David Cunliffe. Photo / Richard Robinson
David Cunliffe. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Labour front bench is likely to be replaced with a team that reaches across the broad constituency the party is trying to represent, regardless of who wins tomorrow's leadership vote.

David Shearer remains the favourite to become the leader when Labour's 34 MPs vote in tomorrow's caucus meeting, but David Cunliffe said last night the numbers were more or less "dead even" and he remains optimistic he can sway up to half a dozen undecided voters.

Yesterday the four contenders - Mr Shearer with Grant Robertson as deputy; Mr Cunliffe with Nanaia Mahuta as deputy - had their final chance to pitch to the party membership before an audience of 400 in Auckland.

After the meeting, Mr Cunliffe hinted at foul play in an otherwise fair contest, saying there had been "a little bit of niggle in the background", but he would not comment further. Mr Shearer said he thought the contest had been clean, and was not aware of any niggle.

"If there has been, I hope it hasn't been from my side."

The contenders will spend today trying to sway MPs, thought to include Shane Jones, Parekura Horomia and Andrew Little, who have yet to make up their minds. Mr Shearer and Mr Cunliffe have signalled the importance of a break from the Helen Clark-led years and have indicated a new look for the front bench of nine MPs.

They said speculation on the front bench was premature, but Mr Cunliffe said he would want Mr Shearer there, and Mr Robertson would also likely be there.

Mr Shearer said he had not given any undertakings to his colleagues.

A front bench that included all four contenders would ensure a step towards reconciliation after the leadership contest.

Adding MPs Jacinda Ardern, Mr Jones and Charles Chauvel, who was previously on the cross-bench, would see an injection of youth, policy gurus and the party's best performers in the House. David Parker is expected to keep his spot on the front bench.

Labour puts a lot of value on gender balance, and a front bench seat for Lianne Dalziel could be a reward for winning Christchurch East when most of the Canterbury area went to National.

She also showed courage by removing herself from the list. That would see a front bench that included two from the Maori caucus, two from the rainbow caucus and a mix of experience and youth.

Departing leadership team Phil Goff and Annette King are expected to vacate the front bench, as are Parliamentary veterans Trevor Mallard, Ruth Dyson and Mr Horomia.

Senior MP Clayton Cosgrove could keep his place on the front bench, but the new leadership team would be wary of being seen to reward him after he narrowly lost his Waimakariri seat.

The party will also elect new whips tomorrow, as former whips Rick Barker and Steve Chadwick were not re-elected to Parliament.

The whip position could be a reward for Chris Hipkins, who increased his majority in Rimutaka from 753 to 3286.

What Labour's new front bench could look like (in alphabetical order):

Jacinda Ardern
Charles Chauvel
David Cunliffe (right)
Lianne Dalziel
Shane Jones
Nanaia Mahuta
David Parker
Grant Robertson
David Shearer (left)

- NZ Herald

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