In making David Shearer the new leader, the Labour caucus has taken a fairly bold step. Shearer is not well known by the public, largely unproven, and didn't perform well in the media and candidate meetings. Shearer's main quality has been that he's a fresh face and 'not David Cunliffe'. Even those MPs who preferred Cunliffe may have had doubts about his ability to unite the caucus given the antipathies of many colleagues. It's Shearer who now faces a mammoth task of reinventing and reinvigorating Labour. But first he will need to heal the wounds, and if Patrick Gower's TV3 report is anything to go by, the caucus has become openly divided during the leadership contest - see: 'Vicious' scrap over Labour leadership.
The election of Grant Robertson as Shearer's deputy may end up being more significant in the long-term. Although relatively new to Parliament like Shearer, Robertson has been vaunted as leadership material and with fewer weaknesses than his new leader. Commentators are already speculating on how long it will take for Robertson to replace Shearer. It's notable that already on iPredict, the stock for Grant Robertson becoming Prime Minister by 2015 has shot up dramatically today from 8% to 44% (http://bit.ly/vrcYEv). Shearer probably has until 2013 to revive Labour's fortunes. If he fails, by that time Robertson will be ready to seize his chance. Certainly, whenever Shearer falters and stumbles as leader, Robertson will be discussed as a potential coup leader.
There will be now be a rush to figure out exactly what David Shearer stands for, and Labour will be working hard to promote his 'story' to the wider public.
Until his leadership bid there's been little examination of the rising star, but there's now a number of profiles published- including Vernon Small's Who is David Shearer? and NZN's Shearer's past is his biggest asset. Another insight into Shearer might be found in the filmed 'Vote Chat' interview that I did with David Shearer here at the University of Otago last month, which can be viewed in four parts on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
What are the political commentators and bloggers saying? Vernon Small voices some reservations about Shearer - see: What we haven't yet seen from Shearer. David Farrar says 'I think this is a good decision for Labour. Shearer gives them an opportunity to make a clean break from their past. The challenge will be for that break to be substantive, not just symbolic' (And the winner is David ....... Shearer;), Cameron Slater argues that Shearer represents a rightwing takeover of Labour (Labour elects Manchurian candidate). On the Labour side, blogger Robert Winter expresses concern today that the Labour caucus has not listened to the membership (who are said to have favoured Cunliffe) - see: If Mr Shearer wins today....... On The Standard, an interesting parallel is drawn between the Shearer and the inexperienced David Lange becoming leader and losing control of his own Government - The lesson of Lange.
Labour is not the only political party in the midst of renewal this week - National's Cabinet reshuffle is a major part of it's own attempt to modernise and refresh itself - see Audrey Young's Front bench 'freshened up'. Yesterday's re-ordering was mostly predictable - as pointed out in Vernon Small's opinion piece, A rapier, not a cudgel and today's Dominion Post editorial Cautious revamp not a game changer. Compare this reshuffle with the last time that National was re-elected for a second term in government - 1993 - when Prime Minister Jim Bolger sacked the Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson, and others were heavily demoted. Nothing so radical has occurred this time, and there won't be any seriously ruffled feathers in the Cabinet.
The reshuffle appears highly successful. It's managed to make the Government look refreshed and more interesting. In fact it's surprising that Key didn't implement these changes prior to the election - National might have done better last month with this line up.
The promotion of a number of women, and in particular Maori women show how much National is attempting to challenge its image as a party of 'middle aged white guys'. The party really does appear to be changing and incorporating women and Maori. For more on this, see Audrey Young's Women move up the Govt ranks and Amelia Romanos' Boost for women in new Cabinet.
There are five main winners from the reshuffle: Hekia Parata, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Amy Adams, and Steven Joyce. The 'ones to watch' are Parata and Joyce. Both have made huge leaps up the peaking order, and both will increasingly be talked about as possible successors to John Key. For more on Parata and her promotion, see Claire Trevett's Parata stands firm on National Standards.
In fact, what's most interesting about this is that all of these newcomers are relatively inexperienced in Parliament and government - this is examined in today's Herald editorial, Freshness and experience in Key's Cabinet. It now seems that - as with David Shearer and Grant Roberson's spectacular rise to the leadership after only a few years - National clearly values 'freshness' above 'political experience'. This is one of the key parliamentary political trends of our times. Whereas once political careers took many years and parliamentary terms before a politician could rise to the top, now the secret to the success of people like David Shearer, Steven Joyce, and Hekia Parata is their claim to 'freshness' and the fact that they don't have a political career.