Six months ago David Cunliffe's image had taken a battering, particularly as the ABC (Anyone but Cunliffe) faction was identified as one of the main reasons for Shearer's victory in the Labour Party leadership contest.
As the most experienced contender, the rejection could well have signaled the end of his political aspirations, but Cunliffe kept his head down and behaved himself as a loyal MP to the new leader. With Shearer failing to make any immediate impact on Labour's poll ratings and the clearly ambitious new deputy Grant Robertson being touted as a possible replacement, Cunliffe's first move to publicly stake out his own position has clearly reignited tensions within Labour. Chris Trotter deals this with today in an extraordinary critique of Labour in his Press column - see: Cunliffe Muzzled: The Courtiers Fight Back.
The most recent materialisation of these tensions in Labour was a ban placed on Cunliffe appearing on TV3's The Nation in the weekend.
Duncan Garner is very clear that Shearer's office had Cunliffe banned from appearing and, furthermore, that Cunliffe received a roasting from his caucus colleagues over his recent speech to New Lynn Labour Party members - see Garner's Row over Cunliffe's absence on TV show, (or the video version). And you can watch TV3's The Nation (with Duncan Garner's introduction about Cunliffe) here.
While the accepted wisdom is that Cunliffe has more party support outside of the caucus than within, he also has vocal support from outside the Labour Party, and it's not just Chris Trotter. For example, Brian Edwards (On David Cunliffe, the political divide and why I'm still wondering) and Martyn Bradbury (Gagging Cunliffe is the most inane political self mutilation of the year) both slam Shearer for not allowing Cunliffe to express any view that might not currently fit with his media and policy strategy.
Labour activist Robert Winter steers clear of any criticism of Shearer but says debate shouldn't be seen as subversion of the party and that the outcome of the party's organisational review and the willingness of Labour's leadership to promote debate will be crucial for Labour's recovery - see: On Crises and Debate: things that are happening in the Labour Party.
Many critics on the left continue to be underwhelmed by what they see as Labour's weak response to the Government's agenda, including Giovanni Tiso (Public/Private/Foreign), No Right Turn (Labour doesn't lead) and Chris Trotter again with National Attacks Unions ... Again. How Will Labour Respond?. The Tiso blog post is particularly interesting, because it presents a very good critique of what he regards as Labour (and the Greens) uses xenophobia to fight against privatisation and also buying into the neoliberal State Owned Enterprises model of state ownership. Incidentally, in an opinion piece in the ODT (Plan for Hillside prompts searching questions) David Shearer shows just how much he is now tilting to the left by challenging the SOE-type model in which state owned enterprises are effectively only concerned with making a profit, without any real regard for the impact of their activities on the community.
John Key doesn't have A dose of second-term blues according to Patrick Gower who says Key still holds all the cards. He lists a number of reasons why Key is still on top and is keen to get on with the job. Gower makes some excellent counterfactual points. But as the Government's response to nearly all criticism is about 'the need to grow the economy' and 'pay down debt', then after 6 years in Government the 2014 election may well come down to a counter-response of: 'it's the economy stupid'. With Europe teetering on crisis and the worst slump in New Zealand retail sales for 17 years Vernon Small reports that opposition parties are warning of a double dip recession - see Key banks on forecasts despite slump. The Prime Minister is expressing confidence in Treasury forecasts showing continued growth to 2014. Fran O'Sullivan agrees with Patrick Gower saying that Key's front footing of what she describes as 'mini-scandals' shows he has reverted to 'CEO mode' - see: Key gets serious over NZ's major issues.
If there is a change in Key's response it may be reflected in his approach to the media. Key told Leighton Smith that 'the media is in a more aggressive and hostile mood towards us' (Key slams news media) and Toby Manhire thinks this signals Key reopening his war of words with the media which begun with the teapot tapes last year - see: John Key reopens war of words with NZ media.
It's also worth pointing out that the Government's relationship with the media was worsened when it was announced that the Solicitor General was going to attempt to recoup costs from cameraman Bradley Ambrose. This decision was said to be made independent from the PM, but in the weekend it was revealed that Key communicated with the Solicitor General's office over the affair - see: Kathryn Powley's Key's phone call over recording. See also, No Right Turn's Deceitful.
Bill English is clearly pushing ahead with his zero budget, announcing yesterday that increased prescription charges will be traded off for increased funding for cancer treatments. Mana leader Hone Harawira has warned of dire consequences for poorer families not being able to afford medicines - see: Isaac Davison and Paul Harper's Meds price hike: 'Children will die'. The Medical Association and the Pharmacy Guild are supporting the increase with Pharmacy Guild CEO Karen Crisp dismissing fears and saying 'You can barely get a cup of coffee for $5 these days' (see: Price hike overdue, says Pharmacy Guild). However, Harawira is probably not referring to the families who frequent cafes but more likely those whose kids scavenge for food amongst pig slops.
The trade off between increasing prescription charges and increasing funding for cancer treatment is very questionable according to Professor Tony Blakely of Otago University because research shows that 18,000 adults already put off taking medicine because of the existing part charges, with Maori and Pacific people twice as likely to do so. Blakely also questions the economics, as those who don't take required medicine will end up in the hospital system at much greater public expense - see: Public health expert questions prescription charge move.
The Government's attempts to hold the health budget line will come under further pressure with the Appeal Court decision that parents caring for their disabled children are entitled to payment - see: Tom McRae's Disabled care Govt cost uncertain. The Government has spent $1.4 million so far fighting the claims but has lost three times in court. Chris Ford, from his wheelchair, welcomes the victory - see: Family caregivers of severely disabled people get justice at last!.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* Public broadcasting (or lack there of) is increasingly being discussed around the country - especially with the launch in Auckland tonight of a series of nationwide meetings - see the Save TVNZ7 Facebook page. David Beatson has also written a very good blog post about the problems with the Freeview model of public broadcasting (Bang goes another public service TV channel), and Stuff survey's a number of experts, asking What can be done about NZ TV?.
* The Listener's Toby Manhire is increasingly busy picking up on the stories and angles that many other journalists miss. Today, for example, he asks, Is Conservative party leader Colin Craig a creationist?, and he reports on the fact that John Key ranks ninth of 21 leaders in region in approval ratings.
* Industrial relations is one of the big political stories of the year, and the Government is determined to make further changes in this area - see: Jamie Gray's New industrial relations laws rewrite labour rules and Newswire's Labour slams law change proposals.
* How much does sexual violence plague New Zealand? According to a report, 'one in four girls and one in eight boys is likely to experience it before the age of 16' - see: Newstalk ZB's Sexual violence in New Zealand 'huge' say advocates. But David Farrar challenges the credibility of theses figures and argues that 'The actual true levels of sexual violence are bad enough, that they do not need exaggerating' - see: Sexual violence statistics.
* The Ureweras saga continues to divide the political left in this country. See the very different viewpoints in Matt McCarten's Urewera fiasco pointless and expensive shambles, Chris Trotter's In A Weakened State, and Lew Stoddart's Against "courageous corruption" as Crown policy.
* The public's view of the ever-closer US-NZ military relations is surveyed in Audrey Young's Opinion divided on NZ-US military exercises.
* With an increasing focus on the activities of lobby groups in New Zealand, David Farrar looks at a very under-examined element of the industry - those lobby groups that are actually funded by the state - see: Taxpayer funded lobbying. As Farrar shows, some lobby groups are effectively funded by government to lobby government with political campaigns - which is a very problematic arrangement.
* Finally, New Zealand gets the attention of the President of Wadiya in a very funny 43-second message, which can be watched on here. For more on this, see TVNZ's The Dictator greets 'New Zealand Devils'.