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Shearer's reshuffle 'clever' - former president

Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 11:17 a.m.

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Labour revealed its new-look shadow cabinet yesterday, but has its leader done enough to woo more voters?

David Shearer has promoted Annette King, Chris Hipkins and David Clark, and demoted long-serving MP Trevor Mallard, as well as Nanaia Mahuta and Lianne Dalziel.

Former Labour Party president Mike Williams told Firstline this morning their demotion wasn't simply a result of their support for David Cunliffe, who has himself been left on the back benches.

"I think it's a bit more complicated than that. I think Nanaia is effectively on maternity leave, and I think she was probably out of her depth in education anyhow.

Ms Mahuta has been replaced in the portfolio by Mr Hipkins, who in the associate education role has been a vocal critic of Education Minister Hekia Parata and the Christchurch school closures process.

"Lianne, I think there is an element of being a loud Cunliffe supporter," says Mr Williams. "Lianne's also been around for a very long time, and I think one of the things David Shearer has done is signal to some people that it's kind of end-of-career time."

Ms Dalziel came into Parliament in 1990, and has been the MP for Christchurch East since 1999.

"The last election was lost by the Labour Party in Christchurch. You've got to remember there was only I think less than 10,000 votes between the two centre-left, centre-right blocs, and you could say that 10,000 votes was accounted for by the decline in the Labour vote in Christchurch. There were two things going on there – one, at that point, Gerry Brownlee was being perceived as having done a good job. They may well have lost that momentum because of Hekia Parata's activities in Christchurch. Two, a lot of people were forced out of the city, particularly in the eastern areas, which tend to vote Labour."

As for Mr Mallard, he says he's looking at taking on the role of Speaker should Labour take power in 2014.

"I think that's quite a wise move," says Mr Williams. "Trevor fills the position of an attack dog, and he can do that just as well from the middle bench as the front bench."

Mr Williams says Mr Shearer has been "astute" in his treatment of Mr Cunliffe, having "chucked a sprat" to the former leadership rival in the form of the revenue spokesperson role.

"That's actually important when you recall that two of Labour's key policies are around tax – capital gains tax – so I think it's a challenge to David Cunliffe to go nose down, bum up, and win his way back into hearts and minds. He's easily capable of doing that."

The most surprising move however wasn't Dr Clark' bunny-hopping Mr Cunliffe into economic development – it's the return of former minister Annette King into the health role.

"It's one of those things after the event that seems to be absolutely obvious. Annette was a very safe pair of hands in health, she knows the portfolio backwards, she gets under the Tories' skin. The important thing about Annette is she actually trusted by everyone, and she's part of the glue that holds that party together… a very clever move by David Shearer."

Will the reshuffle be enough though?

"My view is… that the phone is still pretty much off the hook," says Mr Williams. "We've had a long, warm, relaxing summer. I don't think people have been taking much notice of politics."

He says it could be months before the polls start to move.

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