Labour leader Andrew Little has carried out a refreshing reshuffle of his parliamentary line-up. Normally an Opposition leader appoints his best eight or ten performers to the front bench and makes minimal change to the rest of his ranks so as not to upset anyone unduly.
But Mr Little has completely restructured his team in a novel way. As well as naming a "front bench" of 12, he has chosen another 10 MPs to complete his "shadow cabinet". That leaves another 10 out in the cold.
They include several MPs who were ministers in the last Labour Government: Phil Goff, David Cunliffe, Ruth Dyson and Trevor Mallard. Mr Goff, of course, plans to leave Parliament if he wins the Auckland mayoralty, and Mr Mallard wants to be Speaker rather than a minister. But Mr Cunliffe and Ms Dyson may be aggrieved at their low rating in their leader's eyes. Mr Cunliffe proved not to be a popular leader but he was effective Helen Clark's Cabinet. That can be a disadvantage if a leader is anxious to present new faces to the public, but Mr Little's new shadow cabinet includes three veterans of the previous era: David Parker, Clayton Cosgrove and Damien O'Connor.
Mr Parker's return is particularly welcome. He was bowing out of politics after standing unsuccessfully for the party leadership. If his return to the front bench signifies renewed enthusiasm, the next Labour government will be the better for his business experience and thinking.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
But it is the new names that deserve most attention. David Clark, Megan Woods, Stuart Nash, Meka Whaitiri, Jenny Salesa and Peeni Henare are not yet well known outside the regions they come from but they have impressed the party leadership for qualities that might soon be more widely apparent. Mr Nash already features in speculation of eventual leadership but Mr Clark and Ms Woods rank higher in Mr Little's estimation at this stage.
Labour's rising star in the public eye is undoubtedly Kelvin Davis, thanks to his exposure of Serco-run prisons and his trip to Christmas Island to meet Kiwi-born detainees. Mr Davis already ranked eighth on Labour's front bench and could have expected to move higher than number seven. Ahead of him are Chris Hipkins, Jacinda Ardern and Phil Twyford, who has not suffered for the Chinese names fiasco on the Auckland housing issue.
Looking ahead two years to the next election, Mr Little and his deputy Annette King, in consultation no doubt with finance spokesman Grant Robertson, will have been trying to predict the issues that might be in the uppermost in the electorate's mind. Unemployment will be a little higher next year as a result of population growth and slightly slower economic growth. But immigration will probably drop in response and the economic outlook is stable.
If voters are in a mood for change in 2017, they will probably be looking for new ideas for generating higher incomes, affordable housing and alternatives to property investment. Assignments such as economic development (Mr Clark, Mr Nash), export growth (Ms Woods) and information communication technologies (Mr Parker) could be decisive.