John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Clever reshuffle adds punching power

Labour Party leader David Shearer. Photo / APN
Labour Party leader David Shearer. Photo / APN

Cabinet or caucus reshuffles are the stuff of nightmares for Labour chiefs.

The need to accommodate gender, ethnic and other factional interests must be balanced against the need to go into parliamentary battle with the the strongest line-up possible.

David Shearer has pulled it off. Yesterday's reshuffle of shadow portfolios is very different from the one he instituted on becoming leader 14 months ago. His reluctance then to tread on too many toes after beating David Cunliffe in a post-election ballot left Labour fighting National with one hand tied behind its back.

The net effect was that of the five priority areas identified by the leader as critical to the party's 2014 election chances - economic growth (or the lack of it), housing, jobs, health and education - Labour has been all but invisible in the past three.

Those portfolios were held by MPs not well disposed to the combative side of parliamentary politics.

At the same time, some of Labour's heavy-hitters were left with minor portfolios. That imbalance has been remedied.

Deputy leader Grant Robertson, who had held the environment portfolio, is now in charge of employment and training, thus harnessing one of Labour's best and brightest to what is shaping as the No 1 election issue - jobs.

The switch also ups the ante on National by making a potential future Labour leader face off with a potential future National leader, Steven Joyce. He has largely had an easy ride until now. Robertson nobbling Joyce would be a major scalp for Labour. But vice versa for National.

Likewise Annette King and Tony Ryall in health. King had barely had the role for five minutes when she lashed into Ryall.

It is not so much the case with Chris Hipkins in education. Hekia Parata is already beyond redemption in most people's minds.

Shearer's clever reshuffle also makes use of two other long-serving, but highly effective MPs. Phil Goff has been given licence to make trouble for National across the whole public service - rather than just the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Similarly, Trevor Mallard has been given the shadow internal affairs spokesmanship which covers issues such as ministerial travel and credit card spending.

Where Shearer has demoted MPs - except for Lianne Dalziel, who falls out of the top 20 - he has shunted them down only a few rankings.

He has also made it pretty clear to Cunliffe that there is a road back from the wilderness.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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