John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Labour leader's portfolio reshuffle ticks most of the important boxes

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David Cunliffe.
David Cunliffe.

Before becoming Labour's new leader, David Cunliffe promised he would reshuffle jobs and rankings in the caucus on the basis of "meritocracy" - where promotion (or demotion) is based strictly on individual ability and achievement.

Yesterday's reallocation of shadow portfolios strays at times from that principle. Some of those who stuck their necks out for Cunliffe in the leadership race have been rewarded. Some who made little secret of their dislike for the New Lynn MP have been punished.

His allies being the minority in the caucus, Cunliffe - for all his power flowing from his strong backing in the wider party and among affiliated trade unions - needed to reward those allies to tilt the balance of influence more favourably in his direction within the caucus room.

But the reshuffle is not that simple. Some of those who assumed they would be demoted have ended up being promoted.

And some who thought they were due some recognition from Cunliffe have stood still or fallen back.

To complicate things, while those who have done particularly well - Sue Moroney and Louisa Wall - are Cunliffe loyalists, the pair deserved promotion.

Moroney has given the Government considerable gyp over the extension of paid parental leave, while Wall steadfastly shepherded her gay marriage bill through Parliament.

The meritocratic principle seems to have gone AWOL, however, in the cases of the two Dunedin MPs. David Clark, widely seen as a possible future leader and thus a potential threat to Cunliffe, drops from 12th to 20th. Clare Curran has also paid the price of being on the losing side and has been stripped of broadcasting responsibilities and goes from 18th to unranked.

However, for every Curran, there is a Chris Hipkins. He ripped into Cunliffe last year following the party's tumultuous annual conference. His punishment is to keep the prestigious shadow education portfolio and jump two spots to eighth and a seat on Labour's eight-strong front-bench.

Meanwhile, Annette King, likewise a Robertson backer, not only keeps her front-bench status, but climbs to fourth - a remarkable achievement for someone who entered Parliament nearly 30 years ago.

The pair are on the front-bench for a reason, however. Cunliffe wants his best "attack dogs" there to harry and hammer National ministers.

Meritocracy has been applied where it helps Cunliffe meet his priorities, the prime one being to strengthen Labour's firepower going into election year. In that regard, yesterday's reshuffle passes the test with flying colours.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

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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