We had proof again these past days that politics is never fair and seldom simple. David Cunliffe dumped - Judith Collins promoted.

Fairness first.

Collins resigned from Cabinet over a year ago amid allegations of improper behaviour. A subsequent inquiry found no evidence of wrongdoing and she was cleared. Those making the allegations suffered no consequence but Collins did.

That's politics. The allegations were damaging to National's re-election chances and she had to go, irrespective of the validity of the attacks. In politics, there's winning and losing and not much in between.


Last year, Labour was backing Cunliffe as the best person to lead New Zealand. He came second. Second is losing and Labour dropped Cunliffe and elected Andrew Little.

Little has now dumped Cunliffe to the party's nether regions, signalling there's no place for Cunliffe - well, not much of one - as long as he's leader. There is no allegation Cunliffe has done wrong and no suggestion his considerable talent is on the wane. There's nothing fair about it.

Collins and Cunliffe took their dumping like the political soldiers they are. Collins is now back. What of Cunliffe? Has he a political future? Here's where it gets complex.

I never thought Collins would be back. I thought John Key would take the opportunity to bring in a fresh face but my thinking ignored the political machinations, the personalities involved and the psychology at work.

David Cunliffe. Photo / Michael Cunningham
David Cunliffe. Photo / Michael Cunningham

It's the same for Cunliffe. Circumstances change. So, too, do leaders. The first issue is whether Cunliffe can stomach another indefinite spell in purgatory. David Shearer had him there when he was leader. At some point, Cunliffe may say, enough.

The important psychology to his political future is his. No one could blame him if he chose to leave and do something else.

Then we have his colleagues. Has he burned them forever and a day or do they feel he's hard done by? Do they think he has a contribution to make? His colleagues' outlook over the long haul matters more than the present leader's views.

Oh, and then there's the machinations. It's backroom wheeling and dealing that could see his star back on the rise.


Key put Collins back in Cabinet. He saw his previous leader Don Brash off and out of Parliament. He made National's leader before Brash - Bill English - his number two.

And what a choice. English is the heart and brains of the Government. I consider him the best minister I've seen.

Key and English have proved the dream team. They are the Richie McCaw and Dan Carter of New Zealand politics.

I think Little has made a mistake in dumping Cunliffe. From the outside peering in, it seems to me he needs all the talent and experience he can muster.