Key’s tactics likely reference as Labour leader picks his people.

The art of winning an election requires three ingredients and one condiment. The ingredients are people, ideas and money. The condiment is rat cunning.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Andrew Little celebrated his first anniversary as party leader by focusing on the first of those ingredients. He summoned his MPs into his office one by one to let them know who had been naughty and who had been nice. That was phase two of his reshuffle, the final results of which will be revealed at the end of the month. So far only Annette King and Grant Robertson have been declared safe as deputy leader and finance spokesman respectively.

Reshuffles are a fraught event for any leader and not to be undertaken unnecessarily. They have equal capacity to cause grievance, envy and joy. Of those three, the greatest is grievance.

Reshuffles are particularly fraught for a Labour leader. At Apec this week, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull repeated his admiration for John Key. In a chat with United States President Barack Obama, Turnbull called Key a role model. Little would never admit it, but he too will have studied Key, in particular his reshuffle tactics. Key has managed to evict people from his ministerial benches and ultimately out of Parliament altogether without any really good reason beyond a wish to give someone else a turn.


He managed it without any public tantrums. It is an astonishing feat.

Little faces the added complication of being leader of the Labour Party, in which merit is only one factor to take into account. He also has to take account of gender and ethnicity. Those are factors for Key, but they weigh far more heavily in Labour. At the moment eight of Labour's 10 lowest-ranked MPs are Maori and Pasifika. Only three in his top 10 are Maori and Pasifika. That is what Labour would call not a good look.

Little was wise to wait for a year before deciding on the final shape of the shadow Cabinet he will take into the 2017 election.

Feelings were raw in the immediate aftermath of his leadership win. Not only was former leader David Cunliffe stinging from the election result and punishment meted out by his own colleagues, but Little's rivals for the leadership were also still nursing bruised egos. The election campaign followed by a leadership election also meant most in Labour were exhausted.

Now things have calmed down and the issue of what to do with Cunliffe does not ride as high as it once might have. Little has proven to have a steady hand and the caucus are still in the throes of relief that the turbulence has settled. Any quarters that might disrupt that are likely to be quickly closed down. This gives Little more freedom than he might otherwise have if he had a significant chunk of the caucus to appease.

In the leadup to the party's conference, Little told the Herald one advantage that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had over him was that sports teams could select and de-select at their pleasure. He had to work with what he had.

This is a critical reshuffle.

Labour has been criticised for being too oppositional and failing to present as a Government in waiting. This shadow Cabinet has to be of high enough calibre to convince the voters that Labour is ready to take over.


His team is small and he needs his performers to perform. There are precious few of those. Those who got opportunities and made the most of them will do the best, such as Kelvin Davis and Phil Twyford. Beyond those, few of the MPs have stood out in the public eye.

Little has already indicated Jacinda Ardern will be moved up from her ninth position. That is likely to be a shift to fourth in the rankings. Although Labour's top three are all from Wellington, they cannot be moved given one is the leader, the other the deputy and the third the finance spokesman.

Ardern's job is to win over Auckland. She is also likely to take on a meaty portfolio in place of the justice portfolio, which is not a natural fit for her. Expect Kelvin Davis to leapfrog over Nanaia Mahuta to be the highest ranked Maori MP and for Mahuta to drop down.

Carmel Sepuloni was one of those Little promoted soon after he became leader - a show of faith which she is yet to repay.

Little had intended Sepuloni to take over as his deputy after his first year in the job but since then she has failed to fire, partly distracted by personal issues.

Despite that, she is likely to get a second chance and keep the social development portfolio.

While Little has recognised the need for experience in his team he is expected to use the reshuffle to indicate that experience in the Cabinet is no guarantee they will be there again.

The key target for that message is likely to be Cunliffe. Cunliffe has been relatively quiet since the election. Despite that, trust in him is low. He is currently ranked 14th. Little may well use this reshuffle to send a signal to him that there is no road for him into a Labour Cabinet. That in turn would be seen as a hint for Cunliffe to consider a life beyond Parliament.

Little's focus will be instead on bringing forward talented newcomers from the 2011 and 2014 intakes, such as Jenny Salesa, Davis and Stuart Nash.

It goes without saying Phil Goff will cop a demotion to allow someone else to move up, not because of any failings on his part but because he will be otherwise occupied campaigning for the Auckland mayoralty and then, all going well, leaving altogether. That is David Shearer's gain, effectively guaranteeing he will keep his foreign affairs portfolio and possibly pick up defence as well.

On the money side, after the Herald reported on Labour's financial records this week, senior members of the party reported an influx of donations - news came through they even raised a toast to the Herald for its inadvertent fundraising assistance.

If such reports are accurate, all that remains for the recipe are the ideas and rat cunning.