Reactions to the National reshuffle

Reactions to the National reshuffle – certainly not timid, but with risks (every reshuffle of non-reshuffle has risks in politics):

Claire Trevett at Stuff: Simon Bridges’ reshuffle radical – by National Party standards

The show-stealers in National Party leader Simon Bridges’ reshuffle are obvious and Bridges took particular joy in setting the scene for a showdown between new Housing spokeswoman Judith Collins and Housing Minister Phil Twyford.

And Twyford has risen to the bait on Twitter and in media. He must have had a day off his housing ministerial duties yesterday.

But Bridges pointed out there is a lot of background work that must happen as well to set the party up for 2020.

In that respect, Bridges continued with the structure that worked well for National, grouping his MPs into teams such as finance, children and social welfare, law and order, health and economic development to work on policies together.

That’s what a party should be doing in Opposition.

Labour seemed remarkably unprepared for Government after nine years in Opposition. Much of their initial work seems to be to have reviews and inquiries and working groups before they decide on what policies to implement.

So Bridges was not exaggerating when he said his reshuffle came with some risks – although he was referring to the risks of some relative unknowns taking high-profile roles rather than the risk of a revolt.

Good leaders have to take risks – especially when faced with the knowledge that first term Government failures are rare in New Zealand.

However bad leaders take bad risks – time will tell how it works out for Bridges.

Stacey Kirk at Stuff:  Simon Bridges caucus holds logic and risk, but will it boast reward?

Leader Simon Bridges has unveiled his new look shadow-Cabinet and he’s made it abundantly clear the traditional power structures within the party are a thing of the past.

Bridges’ reshuffle doesn’t have the face of being haphazard or even based on previously-speculated notions of reward and punishment. It’s a lineup that has some obvious logic and planning behind it.

But change this big is both a gamble and a risk.

With an eye on 2020 and the improbable goal of containing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Government to a single term, Bridges will know historic feats are never typically achieved by playing it safe.

Brigitte Morten at RNZ: Bridges’ reshuffle reveals ‘insight and guts’

Simon Bridges’ Cabinet reshuffle was his first real test as National’s new leader and it revealed he has the guts to make the tough calls.

Predictable responses at The Standard –  National announces new line up – and Kiwblog – Bridges announces the new Opposition lineup.

Typically these days Whale Oil is slow to respond, with no post yet (the announcement was yesterday afternoon) part from a promo of Judith Collins, but expect Hail Oil regarding Collins’ promotion and spotlight, and Wail Oil about most of the rest – it could be a good pointer to who is in favour there, which on recent comments is not many.

Bridges shuffles National deck

With Bill English and Steven Joyce gone or going soon, and Simon Bridges now leading the national party, the Opposition  responsibilities and rankings have been announced.

New lineup (with movement from last ranking in brackets).

  1. Hon Simon Bridges (+4), Leader, National Security and Intelligence
  2. Hon Paula Bennett (-), Deputy Leader, Social Investment and Social Services,Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, Women
  3. Hon Amy Adams (+3), Finance
  4. Hon Judith Collins (+5), Housing and Urban Development, Planning (RMA Reform)
  5. Hon Todd McClay (+8), Foreign Affairs and Trade, Tourism
  6. Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman (+1), Health, Sport and Recreation
  7. Hon Mark Mitchell (+14), Justice, Defence, Disarmament
  8. Jami-Lee Ross (+19),  Infrastructure, Transport
  9. Hon Paul Goldsmith (+5), Economic and Regional Development, Revenue,Associate Arts, Culture and Heritage
  10. Hon Nikki Kaye (+2), Education
  11. Hon Gerry Brownlee (-7), Shadow Leader of the House, GCSB, NZSIS,America’s Cup
  12. Hon Nathan Guy (-1),  Agriculture, Biosecurity, Food Safety
  13. Hon Michael Woodhouse (-3),  Immigration, Workplace Relations and Safety, Deputy Shadow Leader of the House
  14. Hon Louise Upston (+1),  Social Development
  15. Hon Alfred Ngaro (+5), Children,Community and Voluntary Sector, Pacific Peoples
  16. Hon Christopher Finlayson QC (-8),  Shadow Attorney-General, Crown-Māori Relations, Pike River Re-entry
  17. Hon Scott Simpson (+9), Environment
  18. Hon Jacqui Dean (+5), Local Government, Small Business
  19. Melissa Lee (+12), Broadcasting, Communications and Digital, Media, Ethnic Communities
  20. Sarah Dowie (+19), Conservation
  21. Hon Anne Tolley (-5), Deputy Speaker
  22. Rt Hon David Carter (-5), State Owned Enterprises
  23. Hon David Bennett (+1), Corrections, Land Information, Associate Infrastructure
  24. Jonathan Young (+8),  Energy and Resources, Regional Development (North Island)
  25. Hon Maggie Barry ONZM (-6), Seniors, Veterans,  Associate Health
  26. Hon Dr Nick Smith (-8),  State Services (including Open Government), Electoral Law Reform
  27. Barbara Kuriger (+1), Nominee for Senior Whip
  28. Matt Doocey (+1), Mental Health, Nominee for Junior Whip
  29. Simon O’Connor (+5),  Customs, Associate Housing (Social), Associate Social Development
  30. Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (-), Internal Affairs, Associate Justice
  31. Hon Tim Macindoe (-6), ACC, Associate Foreign Affairs and Trade
  32. Brett Hudson (+8),  Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Government Digital Services, Associate Transport
  33. Stuart Smith (+13), Earthquake Commission, Civil Defence, Viticulture
  34. Todd Muller (+8), Climate Change
  35. Dr Jian Yang (+1), Statistics, Associate Ethnic Communities
  36. Dr Parmjeet Parmar (+7),  Research, Science and Innovation, Associate Economic Development
  37. Nuk Korako (+4),  Māori Development, Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
  38. Chris Bishop (-), Police, Youth
  39. Ian McKelvie (-5), Fisheries, Racing
  40. Hon Nicky Wagner (-18), Arts, Culture and Heritage, Greater Christchurch Regeneration
  41. Andrew Bayly (+4), Building and Construction, Associate Finance
  42. Dr Shane Reti (+2), Data and Cybersecurity, Disability Issues, Associate Health
  43. Alastair Scott (+2), Forestry, Associate Finance
  44. Jo Hayes (-11),  Whānau Ora, Māori Education
  45. Simeon Brown, Associate Education
  46. Andrew Falloon, Regional Development (South Island)
  47. Harete Hipango, Māori Tourism
  48. Matt King, Rural Communities
  49. Denise Lee, Local Government (Auckland)
  50. Chris Penk, Courts
  51. Erica Stanford, Associate Environment
  52. Tim Van de Molen, Nominee for Third Whip
  53. Hamish Walker, Associate Agriculture
  54. Lawrence Yule, Horticulture
  55. Maureen Pugh, Associate Children
  56. Nicola Willis, Early Childhood Education

Judith Collins has been promoted to #4, meaning 3 of the top four MPs are female.

Alphabetical (apart from the two leaders):

Cabinet reshuffle

Gerry Brownlee has been appointed as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, replacing Murray McCully, and Nicki Kaye has been promoted to Minister of Education to replace Hekia Parata as predicted in the Cabinet reshuffle announced by Bill English today.

“Gerry Brownlee is blunt when he needs to be and diplomatic when he needs to be.”

Mark Mitchell takes Brownlee’s place as Minister of Defence and is promoted into Cabinet.

Tim Macindoe and Scott Simpson have been made new ministers outside cabinet.

Amy Adams will take over Government building from Nick Smith to try to address the problems with housing.

Simon Bridges replaces Brownlee as Leader of the House.


There’s only minor changes in the rankings:

  1. Bill English
  2. Paula Bennett
  3. Steven Joyce
  4. Gerry Brownlee
  5. Simon Bridges
  6. Amy Adams
  7. Dr Jonathan Coleman
  8. Chris Finlayson
  9. Michael Woodhouse
  10. Anne Tolley
  11. Nathan Guy (up from 12)
  12. Nikki Kay (up from 14)
  13. Todd McClay (up from 17)
  14. Nick Smith 14 (up from 15)
  15. Judith Collins (up from 16)
  16. Maggie Barry (up from 18)
  17. Paul Goldsmith (up from 19)
  18. Louise Upston (up from 20)
  19. Alfred Ngaro (up from 21)
  20. Mark Mitchell (up from 23)

Quiet Labour reshuffle

Andrew Little has have reshuffled his caucus’s speaking roles after David Shearer’s resignation and Annette King’s stepping down as deputy.

It seems that Jacinda Ardern’s elevation to deputy has not been matched with an elevation in speaking roles. She has been spokesperson for Justice, Arts, Culture and Heritage, Children, and Small Business Associate Spokesperson for Auckland Issues, none of which are heavy hitting roles.

Dunedin MP David Clark has been given King’s Health portfolio. Clark has been an MP since 2011 and was quickly rated as a good future prospect, but has not been prominent for some time. Health will be a step up and a big test for him.

According to NZ Herald Megan Woods has been bumped up from 10 to 5 in the pecking order.

Ardern has retained all her portfolios, including Children, Arts, Small Business and Justice.

She will also pick up the extra duties of deputy, although Little said she would not fill the usual mould of deputy and would instead help him campaign.

That starts immediately – Ardern will accompany Little on a series of public meetings this week, including in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, and Auckland.

They are keeping these changes low key, with one Tweet but I can’t see anything yet on Labour’s or Little’s Facebook pages and the Labour website still lists King as deputy.

And their website home page does not list the reshuffle under ‘Latest’ nor under ‘Latest Headlines’. I had to hunt for information.

David Clark takes over health role

Dunedin North MP David Clark succeeds Annette King as Health Spokesperson as part of a minor reallocation of portfolios announced today by Labour Leader Andrew Little.

“David has been Associate Spokesperson for some time and has worked closely with Annette in this important portfolio so I’m very confident he will do well in this role.

“A Labour Government will reverse National’s health cuts and David’s skills and experience will be invaluable in communicating to the electorate how Labour will fix the health system.

“Stuart Nash takes over David’s Economic Development (including Regional Development) portfolio and David Parker picks up his Trade and Export Growth role.

“Megan Woods has been a strong performer in her Climate Change and Canterbury Issues roles and picks up Stuart’s Energy, Innovation and Science, Research and Development portfolios.”

Among other changes:

  • Peeni Henare gains State Owned Enterprises
  • Raymond Huo, who is expected to join the Labour caucus next week, takes over the Land Information Role
  • Adrian Rurawhe moves into the Shadow Cabinet
  • Annette King takes over State Services

“This completes changes triggered by Michael Wood’s election as Mt Roskill MP. Earlier this year Kris Faafoi was elected Senior Whip and Adrian Rurawhe, Caucus Secretary.

“The team I lead into this year’s election is strong and determined. We will be working hard to show New Zealanders that there is a better way that provides fairness and opportunity for all,” says Andrew Little.


Raymond Huo is set to return to Parliament soon to replace Ardern on the list and will do the Land Information portfolio.

That gives him some work in the area of foreign buyers – Land Information includes the Overseas Investment Office, as well as data collected on foreign buyers by the Government.

Is this an attempt to dampen down the fallout from their controversial ‘Chinese sounding names’ debacle?

Reshuffle reality

Some of the media and of course Labour and The Standard and The Daily Blog and Whale Oil have dissed Bill English’s ministerial reshuffle, but the reality is that it would have been unwise to make wholesale changes to a reasonably well functioning Government.

Barry Soper: “Rather than rejuvenation it’s more like stagnation, the deck chairs may have been rearranged to some extent but the same passengers are occupying them.”

Vernon Small: “Prime Minister Bill English has delivered a surprisingly cautious reshuffle…”+

Jane Patterson: “The new Cabinet line-up revealed by Bill English is not so much a new face, but the same face with a touch of powder and some new lippy.”

I’m not sure what Patterson expected, a remodelled nose, botox and a boob job?

Some changes were necessary due to Key’s resignation and a couple of lower ranked ministers indicating they were also going to leave Parliament.

A new Prime Minister, a new deputy Prime Minister and a new Minister of Finance was already significant change at the top.

English has also changed a few roles, promoted some (in particularly Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Michael Woodhouse, and introduced some new ministers, including Alfred Ngaro into Cabinet.

English has also signalled more changes in May, preferring to learn from Murray McCully transitioning from Foreign Affairs and delay a decision on Nikki Kaye’s return from cancer treatment.

More drastic rearrangements would have risked destabilising a functioning Government – not just Ministers and MPs but also ministry staff.

Exposing too many new Ministers in an election year would also have been unnecessarily risky.

I’d call the reshuffle prudent rather than cautious, with a tweak or two to come in May to add rejuvenation to the mix with experience.

The realities are that the Opposition and a few cranky bloggers would never have been happy no matter what was done, and headline seeking journalists always wish for more controversy and upheaval.

English is a wily and experienced politician, and probably isn’t far off the mark with his reshuffle.

Bill’s Cabinet reshuffle

Bill English announced his Cabinet reshuffle this afternoon.

“An opportunity for the Government to renew itself with fresh energy.”

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett will remain the Minister of State Services and Climate Change Issues and will pick up the Police, Women and Tourism portfolios.

Steven Joyce will pick up Finance and Infrastructure

Gerry Brownlee will remain the Leader of the House and retain Supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, Defence, and the Earthquake Commission portfolios. He will also be appointed as the Minister of Civil Defence.

Simon Bridges and Amy Adams have both picked up additional senior ministerial responsibilities. Adams has had Social Housing added to her Justice portfolio.

Simon Bridges continues as the Minister of Transport and will pick up the Economic Development and Communications portfolios and Associate Finance, while Amy Adams retains Justice, Courts and picks up Social Housing, Social Investment and Associate Finance.

Amy Adams will take a lead role in driving the Government’s social investment approach.

Alfred Ngaro, Mark Mitchell, Jacqui Dean, David Bennett will be new Ministers, Ngaro new in Cabinet.

Alfred Ngaro picks up Pacific Peoples, community and voluntary sector, associate minister for children and associate social housing.

Mark Mitchell gets Stats, associate justice and land information.

David Bennett will be associate immigration minister.

Jonathan Coleman continues in his Health and Sport and Recreation portfolios.

Michael Woodhouse has been promoted up the Cabinet rankings (19 to 9), retaining Immigration and Workplace Relations and Safety and picking up the ACC portfolio.

Anne Tolley has picked up Local Government and will also be appointed Minister for Children, where she will continue her work on improving outcomes for children and young people. (Note change from ‘Vulnerable Children’ to Children.

Hekia Parata will retain the Education portfolio until May 1, at which point she will retire from the Ministry to the back bench.

Murray McCully will retain the Foreign Affairs portfolio until May 1 at which point he will retire from the Ministry to the backbench. A decision on his replacement will be made at that time.

Judith Collins (who has lost Police and Corrections) “has not been demoted” takes on new responsibilities in Revenue, Energy and Resources and Ethnic Communities, and is well placed to oversee the significant business transformation work occurring at Inland Revenue.

A number of Ministers largely retain their existing responsibilities, including Chris Finlayson, Nathan Guy, Nick Smith, Todd McClay, Maggie Barry and Nicky Wagner.

Paul Goldsmith and Louise Upston have been promoted into Cabinet.

Goldsmith gets Regulatory Reform and Tertiary Education.

Upston picks up Corrections (she was incorrectly picked as a demotion).

Hekia Parata and Murray McCully will exit the Cabinet in 1 May 2017 and move to the back bench (they won’t stand in the election). This means there will be no by-election in McCully’s  East Coast Bays electorate but English says this is to help with transition in Foreign Affairs.

English says he will make an announcement later on who replaces McCully and Parata.

Nikki Kaye would “likely” get education but has a light workload for now.

Nick Smith, who was rumoured to face demotion, keeps environment and building and construction and is at 15 in the rankings (he was 11). English says this isn’t a demotion, new ones have gone up.

There is no ‘Minister of Housing’. Housing will be covered by Nick Smith (Construction) and Amy Adams (Social Housing)

English appears to have ducked a tough decision on housing – Nick Smith is still effectively the housing minister but there has been a change of title from building and housing to building and construction.

Ministers Sam Lotu-Iiga, Craig Foss and Jo Goodhew are departing the Ministry.

English says Goodhew didn’t do anything wrong, but her demotion “it’s just part of a process … she wants to be in Parliament … we are considering other roles for her”.

There will be 21 positions in Cabinet until May 1and a further six outside Cabinet (including two support party Ministers) keeping the total number of Ministerial positions at 27 plus the Parliamentary Under Secretary David Seymour. 

“I would like to thank our support party leaders Peter Dunne, Te Ururoa Flavell, and David Seymour for their continued contribution to a strong and stable government.”

“The Broadcasting portfolio has been disestablished. Its responsibilities now included within Communications & Arts, Culture and Heritage”

Kitchen Cabinet: English, Bennett, Joyce, Brownlee, Bridges, Adams, Coleman.





Labour reshuffle their pack

Andrew Little has announced a bit of a reshuffle of portfolio responsibilities for the labour caucus to cover the departures of Phil Goff and David Shearer.

There’s nothing much surprising.

Curiously Little has created a new role for himself, New Economy, explaining this with a fairly vague “Labour is committed to growing wealth in the economy through greater innovation and productivity”. Sounds quite similar to what the current Government talks about, and also looks compatible with Green rhetoric.

It will be interesting to she whether Labour try build their campaign around ‘New Economy’. It will need to be explained as more than going back to pre-neoliberalism.


Labour will need to do a lot more than shuffle a few speaking roles.

Labour readies for 2017 election

Labour leader Andrew Little today announced a reallocation of portfolios in his shadow cabinet following the retirements of David Cunliffe, Phil Goff and David Shearer and the arrival of new Mt Roskill MP Michael Wood.

“These changes will help sharpen Labour’s focus on some core areas. We know we can do so much better as a country and the team I lead into next year’s election will be working as hard as ever to show New Zealanders Labour has a plan for the future.

“I am underlining how important this is by creating the New Economy portfolio. Labour is committed to growing wealth in the economy through greater innovation and productivity.”

In other changes Michael Wood will be the spokesperson for Consumer Affairs, Ethnic Communities and Revenue.

Chris Hipkins adds all the associate delegations of Tertiary Education held by David Cunliffe to his overall Education duties.

“Education is a crucial area for Labour because of the funding freeze on schools and declining performance, and we’ll be increasing pressure on the Government on this. Chris will be focusing all his energies on this important area and so will be stepping down from the Senior Whip role. I will be nominating Kris Faafoi to be the new Senior Whip with the vote taking place at the first Caucus of 2017. Chris will retain the Shadow Leader of the House role.”

David Parker also takes over Foreign Affairs from David Shearer. Stuart Nash gains State Owned Enterprises and will also be the new spokesperson for Innovation and Science, and Research and Development.

Iain Lees-Galloway will be the new Defence spokesperson. Dr Megan Woods adds State Services to her duties while Clare Curran takes over ICT and moves into the Shadow Cabinet.

“We’re really looking forward to 2017 and spending time talking to New Zealanders up and down the country about how a Labour led Government will restore the Kiwi dream,” says Andrew Little.


Hooton on need for Cabinet reshuffle

Matthew Hooton has written in NBR about the need for a Cabinet reshuffle, and he names a few names he thinks deserve promotion and demotion Cabinet reshuffle needed soon (paywalled).

Bryce Edwards has tweeted a few key points.

Matthew Hooton (NBR): “Cabinet reshuffle needed soon” – makes case for firing many ministers

  • Nick Smith – Minister of Building and Housing, Environment
    “An unattractive arrogance has emerged… The top candidate to be sacked is obviously Nick Smith”
  • Murray McCully – Minister of Foreign Affairs
    Hooton says to sack McCully over Saudi sheep scandal-“Key would be wise to get rid of his errant foreign minister sooner rather than later”
  • Michael Woodhouse – Minister of Immigration, Revenue,Workplace Relations and Safety
    “mere spokesmen for their officials”
  • Sam Lotu-Iiga – Minister for Ethnic Communities, Local Government, Pacific Peoples
    mere spokesmen for their officials”
  • Nathan Guy – Minister for Primary Industries, Racing
    Thinks “his job is reading out MPI talking points rather than… rooting out what looks increasingly like corruption within it”
  • Craig Foss – Minister for Small Business, Statistics, Veterans’ Affairs
  • Louise Upston – Minister for Land Information, Women

“For two years, the government has meandered… Their focus has turned to bureaucratic processes rather than policy outcomes”

“An unattractive arrogance has emerged… The top candidate to be sacked is obviously Nick Smith”.

Makes the case to give ministerial roles to

  • Paul Goldsmith – already Minister for Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Associate ACC
    Promotion “would send a message to business that Key is okay having at least one centre-right minister in his cabinet”
  • Nicky Wagner – already Minister of Customs, Disability Issues, Associate Conservation
  • Todd Muller – MP for Bay of Plenty
  • Dr Parmjeet Parmar – list MP based in Mt Roskill
  • Andrew Bayley – MP for Hunua
  • Barbara Kuriger  – MP for Taranaki-King Country
  • Sarah Dowie – MP for Invercargill
  • Chris Bishop – list MP based in Hutt South
    – rated a good chance of winning the electorate with Mallard resigning
  • Alfred Ngaro – list MP based in Te Atatu
    – lost last election to Twyford by about 2800 votes

Hooton wouldn’t have Seymour promoted – preferring him formalised as Leader of the Opposition (“the only effective critic of his govt”).

This was discussed briefly on The Nation this morning. There seems to be near universal agreement that Nick Smith is past his use-by date. Will he jump before he’s pushed?

Key’s Government could certainly do with a shake up and some revitalising, but I don’t know how vested Hooton’s interests are. He hasn’t been a fan of Key for a while either but no word on leadership changes.

I think key was always likely to do a reshuffle in preparation for next year’s election anyway.

Faafoi rises in Labour reshuffle

Andrew little has promoted Mana electorate MP Kris Faafoi in his caucus reshuffle after Clayton Cosgrove announced he would not stand again next year.

Kris Faafoi promoted to Shadow Cabinet

Posted by Andrew Little

Kris Faafoi has been promoted to Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and receives the Tourism portfolio while Clayton Cosgrove takes on a business outreach role – a move prompted by Mr Cosgrove’s decision to not stand at the next election, says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.

“Kris Faafoi is a very talented MP whose hard work has earned him a place on the Shadow Cabinet. He is instantly recognisable to many New Zealanders and connects well when he’s on the road – an invaluable skill when working with the tourism industry.

“David Shearer receives Kris’ Consumer Affairs portfolio. David is passionate about this area and has some special projects he is keen to work on.

“Clayton Cosgrove keeps his Commerce, Veterans’ Affairs and Associate Finance portfolios. He takes on a new business outreach role. Clayton has excellent links with business and will lead the push in working with industry. He has stepped out of the Shadow Cabinet to allow new talent to be promoted.

So Cosgrove has stepped down but not out.

 “Labour has a talented line-up with an excellent mix of wise heads and new blood. These minor changes provide new strength,” says Andrew Little.

I guess he has to say that.

While Labour’s ‘Team’ web page has been updated to reflect the new responsibilities the pecking order hasn’t changed, with Cosgrove still at number 18 and Faafoi still at 24.

This reshuffle not only hasn’t warranted a post at The Standard, so far Faafoi’s promotion hasn’t been mentioned in comments either. According to their Search he barely rates a mention ever (twice only so far this year) so the lack of interest is not surprising.

Faafoi was chosen to stand for Labour in the Mana by-election in 2010. He is the the first MP of Tokelauan descent (he grew up in Christchurch).

Faafoi trained as a journalist and worked for the BBC and as a political commentator.

He returned to New Zealand  and was Phil Goff’s chief press secretary when Goff took over Labour’s leadership after Helen Clark resigned. Faafoi was also the Rongotai Pacific branch chair of the Labour Party – that is Annette King’s electorate.

So Faafoi is one of the growing number of MPs who have effectively been internally promoted from within Labour’s political class.

An uncomplimentary cartoon by Emmerson at NZ Herald:

Labour rumblings and reshuffle

Rumours are reported to be rumbling in the Labour camp, but Andrew Little denies there will be any major changes when he reshuffles his caucus following the the announcement that Clayton Cosgrove won’t stand again next election.

Cosgrove seemed to be in semi-retirement anyway.

Heather du Plessis-Allan reports on some insider moans in Labour needs a hero and a cause:

For a while now, everyone in the party has bravely kept painting their faces, putting on their party frocks and pretending life was peachy.

That’s the line that’s been spun. But…

I was killing time around Parliament, waiting for a minister. A Labour Party insider was killing time too. We got talking.

Andrew Little said this. Andrew Little said that. Tired of his cock-ups. Tired of being blamed for his mistakes.

It wasn’t a surprise morale in the Labour Party was low, it was a surprise someone was being honest about it.

It would have been surprising if there hadn’t been concerns expressed, privately at least, about Labour’s and Little’s performance. And this was before last week’s poor poll result and before Little’s flailing attacks on John Key this week.

Later that day, I walked through the arrivals gate at Auckland airport next to a well-connected political mover and shaker. We got talking. Trouble’s brewing in the Labour Party.

They’re talking of cutting Grant Robertson. They’re talking of cutting the chief of staff. Watch this space.

While the political buck stops at the top chief of staff Matt McCarten was recruited by David Cunliffe and that didn’t work well. Little retained McCarten in the critical role and that hasn’t worked out well.

If Little isn’t going then McCarten has to go. Something drastic has to change and that’s one of the few options Little has.

But shuffling Robertson out of the Finance role? That’s less likely for a couple of reasons. Dropping Robertson from Finance would be an admission of a failed gamble with Robertson and would threaten his whole Future of Work thing, something Little is probably reluctant to do.

And demoting Robertson from the most demanding of portfolio roles would give Robertson more time and a reason to reconsider his leadership ambitions.

In any case little says he is not including Robertson in his shuffle plans.

Claire Trevett writes in Labour to ‘rejig’ caucus:

Labour leader Andrew Little will do a “slight rejig” of his caucus this week after Clayton Cosgrove’s decision not to stand next year, but has ruled out changing key personnel such as finance spokesman Grant Robertson.

Little said he had no plans to replace Robertson.

“There will be some slight rejigging in the next week or so, but I’m not anticipating any significant changes.” There was speculation former finance spokesman David Parker could get the finance role back, but Little and Parker denied it had come up.

Little said nobody had suggested he change the finance spokesperson, and when he set up his Shadow Cabinet in 2014 he made it clear Robertson would be in the finance role until at least next year’s election. “I’m totally satisfied with Grant’s performance and have no intention of changing him out of the finance role.”

After stating that Little can’t drop Robertson.

So were the rumblings about Robertson discussed by Labour’s leadership?

Or does it reflect dissatisfaction further down the ranks?

Either is a potential problem for Labour.

What Little has committed to is a minor tweak of caucus roles. Cosgrove is ranked 18 and has hardly been seen over the last eighteen months, but relatively low profile responsibilities…

  • Spokesperson for Commerce
  • Spokesperson for Veterans’ Affairs
  • Spokesperson for Tourism
  • Associate Finance Spokesperson

…so re-assigning those will probably not give any indication that Labour are doing anything different.

So Little’s best option to vitalise (you can hardly revitalise something that has been on life support for nearly a decade) his leadership is replacing McCarten.

Chief of staff is a vital role in a party leadership team. Little is noticeably struggling. If he can find someone who will do the hard work for him behind the scenes, and who will give him frank and helpful advice, then he might (just might) find a way of looking like a future Prime Minister.

Little said the poll was “disappointing” but had not spooked him or the caucus. “We are struggling to get clear messages through on our priorities. We’ve got to work harder at that.”

But this week Little’s priorities seemed to be muddy messages dirt mongering, pretty much the opposite of what he says Labour should be doing.

It’s not a matter of working harder, it’s more a matter of working smarter. Much smarter.

And it would be a smart move to appoint a smart chief of staff.

But the biggest problem may be finding some one willing to try to sort out Labour’s mess.