Cunliffe is in the gun after the failure of his leap left, but his caucus has members with bright ideas for the future

David Cunliffe is a general who got too far ahead of his troops and is now being openly shot in the ass.

Cunliffe has yet to develop the necessary horizontal management skills to lead the Labour caucus and head Opposition efforts to hold the Prime Minister's feet to the fire.

It's important that the Opposition has a credible leader.

John Key more than earned another term as Prime Minister.


But third terms are typically a time when governments come unstuck. Senior ministers become arrogant, and there have already been hints of that in Steven Joyce's ill-judged debate against Grant Robertson on The Nation and Gerry Brownlee's bypass of airport security measures.

This week, John Key issued a warning against post-election arrogance.

The real problem, though, is Cabinets become more focused on keeping voters happy and winning the next election rather than taking some well-judged (if electorally risky) policy moves to ensure the economy moves up another notch.

That's why it is important that New Zealand has a credible parliamentary Opposition that tests policies - and proposes a few of its own - to push the Government towards best practice.

The Key Government will not get a clear run in this term.

The Dirty Politics agenda has still to play out. The inquiry into the release of SIS material dumping on former Labour leader Phil Goff and the Government inquiry into former minister Judith Collins' alleged behaviour in respect of former Serious Fraud Office chief Adam Feeley are yet to come.

The Government will also have to weather likely fallout after adversarial journalist Glenn Greenwald releases NSA documents revealing New Zealand's role in mining intelligence on countries that we trade with - including China.

The media will also be more scrappy towards the Government after journalists found out the extent to which they had been played in the previous three years.


But instead of getting out of the blocks, Labour has turned its fire on itself.

While the election disclosed clear support for many of Labour's policies (for instance, compulsory superannuation) Saturday's vote was a comprehensive rejection of "tax and spend", further state creep through KiwiAssure and KiwiBuild and plans to radically reform monetary policy settings - at this stage.

This is not to say that Labour could not get a reformist agenda up again. But it was not sold well. And importantly, it did not speak to aspirational middle New Zealanders.

Much of the post-election focus has been on Cunliffe.

But it's important to note that Labour does have some very credible players who have been written out of the script during Cunliffe's reign.

Take, for instance, former Labour leader and Cabinet minister Phil Goff, who was Trade Minister when Helen Clark's Government cemented the ground-breaking China free trade deal.

Goff also brought the United States into the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, persuading former Republican US trade representative Susan Schwab that it was in America's interest not to turn inward.

Sure, there have been issues with the United States' definition of a 21st century free trade agreement but Goff has not been able to exercise influence over current Trade Minister Tim Groser's thinking in the way Groser did when the positions were reversed.

It is absurd that Goff's significant achievements in New Zealand's interests were downplayed and he was silenced from having a sensible role in the trade debate before the election.

There is Goff's former deputy, Annette King, an accomplished former minister who held heavyweight portfolios such as employment, immigration, health and transport in the Palmer Government and under Helen Clark.

There are MPs like Damien O'Connor with credible thinking on agribusiness, Clayton Cosgrove on SOEs and Trevor Mallard with some critical forward thinking on how to advance an overseas agenda by using SOEs to spearhead exports.

Finally David Shearer - who was white-anted out of the leadership - with his vision for a New Zealand "known the world over for smart thinking and really smart businesses taking the world by storm".

That vision of a New Zealand that is compassionate towards those who need a hand up, that is independent and makes up its own mind on global issues based on its own values had widespread appeal to New Zealand businesses and middle-class voters.

But it was rejected in favour of Cunliffe's tilt to the left, which ignoredthe fact that elections are won in the centre.

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