What is going on with this Shadow Cabinet?

Posted: December 17, 2016 in democracy, elections, New Zealand
Tags: ,

Labour announced its cabinet reshuffle (to deal with the resignations of David Cunliffe and David Shearer) on Friday, and it’s largely not a big deal.

Foreign affairs going to Parker makes a lot of sense- it double-loads him with senior portfolios but one of the two is likely to be negotiated away to NZF or the Greens. Tertiary Education going to Hipkins makes perfect sense.

Even throwing Nash some important portfolios like Science and SOEs makes sense, the man is a climber and you want him occupied.

Starting Wood off with some important portfolios like Consumer Affairs and Revenue is great, and makes perfect sense. This is someone who could totally be in the front bench if he stays on for another term or two.

Curran taking over as full ICT spokesperson, while arguably putting her out of her depth, is also logical, as she was the associate before.

It does raise two interesting questions:

Firstly, and probably more importantly: Is it really appropriate to give the Ethnic Communities portfolio to Wood? (the existing associates are Su’a William Sio and Ruth Dyson) A more logical approach would certainly have been to make him an associate, but you really do need to have someone ethnic leading a portfolio like that for reasons of presence and mana in my opinion. There is a role that white people can play in these sorts of areas, but it shouldn’t be the leadership role. That’s not understanding your lane in terms of fighting for racial equality. It would be like appointing a man as spokesperson for Women’s Affairs: It implicitly states that you don’t believe you have a woman (or someone who isn’t pakeha) who can do the job, which basically means you’ve failed in selecting candidates1.

Secondly, why the heck is Clare Curran moving into Shadow Cabinet? Don’t get me wrong, ICT is a portfolio that is (Shadow) Cabinet-worthy, but Curran isn’t someone who’s qualified to be in cabinet, and I doubt she ever will be. (Then again, Simon Bridges thinks he’s qualified to be Deputy PM, so we clearly live in a completely loopy world in 2016) Logically, Curran needs to be the successor for ICT so that you don’t need to get someone completely new into the portfolio, but it’s reasonable to lock her out of Shadow Cabinet and promote someone else.

If you were being optimistic about who you think in Labour would deserve a Shadow Cabinet position based on talent, (I wouldn’t, personally) you would expect Louisa Wall to have been given some of Shearer’s or Cunliffe’s cabinet-level portfolios and advanced into the Shadow Cabinet, as a talented new MP deserving of advancement. However Louisa seems to be viewed as backbench material for some strange reason, despite being the one to orchestrate our latest advancement of civil rights in New Zealand, and one of the more careful and ethical representatives within Labour.

If you were being cynical and expecting the portfolio to be awarded based on factors like seniority, loyalty, and similar considerations, the natural choice would be Ruth Dyson, who as Women’s Affairs spokesperson arguably belongs in Cabinet already. (Mallard, despite arguably needing to go, is likely to remain on as he’s the best Labour candidate for Speaker, and as such, isn’t going to be in shadow cabinet because he will either need to remain assistant Speaker if National win, or become primary Speaker if Labour do)

Realistically, I can only think of two explanations. One is that Curran has made herself a liability to get rid of somehow and has wrangled a promotion because she’s now viewed as critical to Labour’s success. (lol? If anything she typifies the problems with the Labour caucus and is a drag on their party vote) If she’s wormed her way into finding some buried skeletons, or gatekeeping some critical fundraising capacity, or is viewed as critical by members in a certain part of the country, putting her into Shadow Cabinet to keep her happy arguably starts to make sense, even if long-term it’s probably not a good idea.

The other possibility is that Little is using Curran to “bank” that position in his shadow cabinet against the 2017 election, and hoping that some new talent will come into the party that he can promote into that position. If he promoted an MP who arguably deserved it, it would be much more difficult to move them out of (shadow) cabinet later. So by bringing Curran in, someone who he can absolutely shuffle out of cabinet in for underperforming whenever he pleases in the future, he leaves himself open to who actually fills that slot after the election, and can move up Dyson if no new talent presents itself, or put Harré or some other new blood into cabinet if he picks up some additional list or electorate MPs.

1 We can cut Labour a lot of slack here though, as this is probably the least List MPs a major party has ever had post-MMP, so they don’t get to do much “selection.” Actually, I just checked- Wikipedia has National at six List MPs after their worst-ever MMP loss in 2002, and Labour has five List MPs now, so this is indeed the least List MPs a major Party has ever had.

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