It is being reported that David Shearer will anounce a caucus reshuffle this week, with one source (‘Eddie’ at The Standard) suggesting it will be today.
Shearer has three main challenges:
- to strengthen a front bench that is widely considered to have been underperforming
- to give the appearance of rebuilding and promoting new talent over the old guard
- to be seen to unite a caucus that has looked split by leadership backing factions
There may be conflicts in those goals. For example NZ Herald is suggesting that Annette King and Shane Jones will get promoted:
Labour’s reshuffle this week is expected to include a surprise move in the return of one of the party’s longest-standing and most effective MPs, Annette King, to the front bench, where she is tipped to take over the health portfolio.
The reshuffle is also likely to see the return to the front bench of Shane Jones in the Maori Affairs portfolio.
That may strengthen the front bench but it is the return of the old guard.
Eddie is not optimistic in his post Something about deckchairs:
I’m still picking Mahuta, Street, and Sio demoted, Cunliffe to health and the old guard not moving one iota.
That points to one of the biggest challenges for Shearer – how he appears to deal with unity. In particular if he is seen to reward loyal supporters and punish perceived dissent. IrishBill on the same thread at The Standard:
I’m not sure Cunliffe will get health. I’m expecting the third of caucus that voted no-confidence in David Shearer to get punished for it. It’s bad politics but Trevor and Phil are holding the reins and they’ll put themselves and their vendettas over the political well-being of their leader.
Eddie and IrishBill are from within the Labour Party, this shows how much dissillusionment there is in some quarters.
Greg Presland (mickysavage), who is on Cunliffe’s electorate committee, stears clear of his MP but has concerns:
The demotion of Sio and Dalziel if it occurs will be retrograde and stupid. Both are experienced and hard working local MPs. Sio had the biggest increase in the party vote last time and Dalziel’s work in Christchurch is legendary. This will make divisions worse.
The Herald predicts some more responsibity but no promotion for David Cunliffe:
There is likely to be some redemption for David Cunliffe who will be allocated some portfolio areas, although a promotion up the ranks is unlikely. Mr Cunliffe was stripped of his front bench seat and portfolios after refusing to rule out a challenge to David Shearer’s leadership in November last year.
Cunliffe made it clear he would be supporting Shearer in the caucus vote on leadership earlier this month. We’ll see if that is enough for Shearer to make use of one of the most capable MPs in his caucus.
Just as important is what Shearer does with Cunliffe will be a signal to how he values being seen to mend divisions.
How will Shearer know who was loyal?
There have been various rumours and reports that 10 or 11 MPs did not endorse his leadership. Cunliffe signalled his intention so who are the MPs who wanted the question on leadership to go to a partywide decision?
Shearer and his team will have a good idea based on who supported Cunliffe’s leadership bid in December 2011. They will also probably have ‘done the numbers’ to see if the caucus vote would challenge his leadership.
But one of the pro-Shearer MPs (sometimes referred to as the ABC club – Anyone But Cunliffe) was apparently helping count the votes in what was purportedly a secret ballot. IrishBill claims:
In a late rule change they added the whip (Chris Hipkins) to the ballot count.
If true that’s remarkable. The fact that one of the MPs could be involved in counting secret votes is bad enough – that would be yet another signal to MPs who might be thinking of challenging Shearer’s leadership that their dissent may not go unnoticed.
And there is still deepseated disatisfaction amongst pro-Cunliffe and anti-Shearer party activists over Hipkins’ comments in November over the so-called Cunliffe conference coup, as reported in the Herald:
Labour MP and senior whip Chris Hipkins said Mr Cunliffe had “openly undermined the current leadership” and should either openly challenge Mr Shearer or leave.
“He’s made it clear he intends to challenge for the leadership. I think saying he’s not going to do so until February is dishonest and disingenous. He needs to bring it on.”
He said Mr Cunliffe should be open and upfront about his intentions.
“Weasel words about supporting the leader for now simply don’t cut it.”
He said Mr Cunliffe had actively undermined two leaders in a row – Mr Goff and now Mr Shearer.
“That has made it impossible for him to continue in a senior role within the Labour team.”
He said Mr Cunliffe’s allies should also “take a long, hard look at themselves”.
“We want to go into the next election campaign as a unified team, ready to make David Shearer the Prime Minister. If they’re not willing to sign up for that, they need to think about whether they are sticking around.”
These comments prompted an official complaint from Cunliffe’s New Lynn electorate committee, the outcome of which has not been made public.
Charles Chauvel announced last week that he won’t be sticking around – it was suggested he had been offered a demotion by Shearer.
To entrust Hipkins with counting the secret ballot – the results of which seem to have been leaked – could easily seen as blatant monitoring of support and dissent.
Will Cunliffe’s assurances he would support Shearer in the ballot be still seen as “simply don’t cut it”?
One thing is certain – if Shearer’s reshuffle has the appearance of punishing those who may have not supported him in the ballot the chances of going “into the next election campaign as a unified team” are not high.
We may find out today whether Shearer manages a masterful balance with a nod to unity, or continues a climate of dissent and disatisfaction.
Cunliffe’s responsibilities and placing in the pecking order will be a major pointer.