Cunliffe’s Shadow Cabinet: Magnanimity in Victory

By   /   September 23, 2013  /   13 Comments

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It is clear from the composition of his first shadow cabinet that Cunliffe has learned many lessons. It is to be hoped that by the time he is required to assemble the real thing he will have learned that who controls the means of communication matters almost as much as who controls the means of production, distribution and exchange.

“IN WAR, RESOLUTION; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.” David Cunliffe has, by and large, adhered to Churchill’s famous formula. There are enemies in the Leader of the Opposition’s new shadow cabinet who could (some might say should) have been punished more – but weren’t. And friends who, maybe, deserved more – but didn’t get it. Taken together, however, Cunliffe’s choices point to both a more cohesive and effective “government in waiting”. Unavoidably, there are also one or two decisions that may come back to haunt a Cunliffe-led government.

Chris Hipkins is the most obvious beneficiary of Cunliffe’s magnanimity. Not only does he keep his education portfolio, but, unlike so many of his friends and allies in the ABC Club, he actually goes up two places in Labour’s pecking order.

Annette King, another active member of the ABC Club, also rises two places and retains her health portfolio.

Clayton Cosgrove will breathe a huge sigh of relief that, in spite of his ABC shenanigans, he has kept his portfolios and dropped only two places.

Phil Goff, similarly, has reason to breathe a sigh of relief. His position in the caucus rankings remains unchanged and he keeps the important portfolios of trade and defence.

But it is the man Cunliffe replaced, David Shearer, who has most reason to be grateful to Labour’s new leader. In giving the former UN administrator and aid worker the key portfolio of foreign affairs, Cunliffe has given Shearer a wonderful chance to shine.

Perhaps, like many other New Zealanders, Cunliffe was watching TVNZ’s Q+A programme when Shearer spoke so powerfully and persuasively about the situation in Syria, and realised, along with the rest of us, that this was something the MP for Mt Albert could do well. In the Foreign Affairs portfolio New Zealanders may finally get to see the real David Shearer. He may turn out to be Cunliffe’s most inspired appointment.

Jacinda Ardern can hardly have been surprised to lose the social development portfolio. She simply wasn’t connecting – in any sense. Such blows that she attempted to land on the Minister, Paula Bennett, missed. And, she was demonstrably incapable of talking about social welfare in a way that connected with the electorate.

One is tempted to think that Cunliffe has given Ardern the Police and Correction portfolios for no better reason than to toughen her up and introduce her to the more visceral and less forgiving elements of Labour’s broad church. The official spin from the Top Floor, that Ardern was given these jobs because “she asked for them” can, of course, be read in a number of ways!

The woman Cunliffe has chosen to go toe-to-toe with “Paula Benefit” is Sue Moroney. She rises three rankings to meet her added responsibilities, and her boss will be hoping that she will also rise to what is a formidable political challenge.

For National, welfare policy represents Labour’s soft underbelly: the place where its bleeding heart tends to leave the biggest mess. Moroney will not only have to call Bennett on the cruelty of her reforms and provide policy comfort to their victims, but she will also have to but flesh on the bare bones of Lianne Dalziel’s brilliant parting gift to her colleagues – “the resilient society”.

Moroney has been one of Cunliffe’s most steadfast supporters and her reward has been the opportunity to make something new and inspiring out of the social development portfolio. It is easy to imagine Moroney musing ruefully, in the days ahead, that if her new job represents Cunliffe’s idea of a reward, then she would hate to be on the receiving end of one of his punishments!

Andrew Little continues his relentless rise in the rankings to take on the labour portfolio which Cunliffe has stripped from Darien Fenton. Little is a qualified lawyer and his new responsibilities in the field of labour relations join those he already carries in the portfolio of justice.

Has Cunliffe given these two portfolios to Little because the reforms he has promised in the field of workers’ rights are conceived in strictly legalistic terms? Is the Labour leader asking Little to take the cumbersome top-down reforms cobbled together by the Council of Trade Unions’ hierarchy and simply translate them into law? If he is, then Labour will be missing a golden opportunity to engage in some exciting “blue-sky thinking” on what labour relations should look like in the twenty-first century. Thinking best done by ordinary working people.

Cunliffe owes his leadership to a revolution from below. If he is wise, he will make “revolution from below” the watchword of his quest for the Treasury Benches. In social welfare and in labour relations the Labour Party would be most unwise to go on doing what it has always done – for no better reason than it has always done it. Radicalism is what you get when you broaden the scope of decision-making to those who are usually excluded from the process.

That Cunliffe “gets” the radical meaning of his victory is something his supporters are currently taking on faith. And, it is that faith, alone, that prevents them from feeling the first forebodings of danger and doubt when surveying the “cluster” of economic policy ministers that Cunliffe has so proudly announced.

They will be assuming that in David Parker, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones, Labour’s new leader has chosen a trio of hard-headed enablers of his radical vision for the New Zealand economy. They will be trusting that as ministers in a new Labour-Green government it will fall to them to both explain and reassure the business community that the changes being made are not intended to impoverish “them” but to enrich “us”.

Reconciling the powers-that-be to a Labour-led government determined to honour the “revolution from below” that brought it to power is not going to be easy. And it is in the allocation of the broadcasting portfolio – absolutely crucial to keeping at least one reliable channel of communication open to the ordinary Kiwis – that Cunliffe may have made a serious mistake.

For all her faults (and they are many) Clare Curran understands the need to put the public back into public broadcasting. In spite of his former occupation, there is scant evidence that Kris Faafoi understands that need as deeply as his predecessor.

If Chris Hipkins could hold education, then why couldn’t Curran have kept broadcasting? It’s a portfolio which Labour has disregarded in the past – and paid a heavy price for doing so. There is a good reason why among the very first steps Mickey Savage took in 1935 was to deny the private sector the sort of power over the airwaves that it already enjoyed over newsprint.

It is clear from the composition of his first shadow cabinet that Cunliffe has learned many lessons. It is to be hoped that by the time he is required to assemble the real thing he will have learned that who controls the means of communication matters almost as much as who controls the means of production, distribution and exchange.

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  1. Lucy Gray says:

    Great article and good analysis of the roles. Lets see how things shape up over the next few months.

    • John Strong says:

      Oh Chris,
      Gushing, much?
      Supporting someone is one thing. Treating him him as The Messiah is quite another.

  2. Jax Taylor says:

    Sometimes we are wise to observe without comment, watch without prejudice and keep our own counsel until we see what needs no more confirmation to us.

    Your point that ‘who controls the means of communication matters almost as much as who controls the means of production, distribution and exchange’ resonated.. You omitted the words ‘content’ and ‘direction’ though Chris?
    Accidentally or deliberately I cannot yet fathom
    Disappointing and disquieting given the mass mainstream media driven distractions and diversions I am seeing work so well on so many shipsick sheep this month!

  3. Tom says:

    Curran is being punished because she broke the rules that everyone else adhered to during the leadership election when she engaged in unjustified accusations of homophobia.

    And rightly so.

  4. peterlepaysan says:

    Curran never does herself favours and makes silly calls.

  5. Gavin says:

    Curran is an idiot.

  6. David says:

    Using the term ‘war’ in our political wrangling seems so wrong and an oxymoron if we are attempting to create peace and stability.

  7. Gosman says:

    The NZ Government already owns two national radio stations and three free to air national television stations. The comments made about further ‘controlling’ the means of communication is truly disturbing in that context.

  8. fambo says:

    Someone in Labour has to make it 100 percent clear that the next Labour government will introduce a free to air, advert free, national television station. Any Labour government that doesn’t do this isn’t remotely radical and will flagging that it is more of the “same old, same old”

  9. mugly says:

    On the whole, I think Cunliffe’s been magnanimous and prudent, as well. No appoinment exemplifies that more than David Shearer getting foreign affairs. Hipkins’ youth probably saved him. That’s a good decision even though I initially though he should have been taken out the back and shot. I wouldn’t read too much into Curran’s ‘demotion’. I think Fa”afoi’s appointment is just part of bringing in new blood. Relieving Jacinda Arden of the social development portfolio was doing her a favour. She needs to walk before running and giving her Police and Correction was helping her do just that. Good to see the Pasifika and Maori MPs getting decent portfolios. This is something that National does well under Key and Labour failed to do under Helen Clarke. The’re capable, they just need to be given the opportunities. I’m still on the fence about Annette with Health, but them’s the breaks. Nothing attracts success like success which means WINNING is the bind that will unite Caucus behind Cunliffe. That, I believe, more than vengeance and magnanimity–is what drove the front bench reshuffle.

  10. Jenny says:

    “IN WAR, RESOLUTION; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity, in peace goodwill”

    Winston Churchill

    Chris as well as forgetting to give an attribution to the above quote, you forgot the last three words. “In peace Good will”.

    To the ABC; Support the new direction. Because of the magnanimity and good will shown towards you, respond in kind.

    So out with the old “Third Way Neo-liberalism”. And in with the new, “Predistribution”.

    The full effort of the Labour caucus must get in behind the member’s and affiliate’s choice of leader and the Party’s new direction.

    P.S. Talking of Winston Churchill, David Cunliffe and the need for unity:

    “… I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

    At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them.

    Winston Churchill 1940

    Churchill was unique in British parliamentarians of the time for identifying the crisis and seeing the need for reaching out across the political divide to deal with it.

    Now today, in the 21st Century, every government, every administration, every politician and every leader, are having to consider a threat to humanity even greater than the threat of fascism.

    New research co-authored by leading U.S. climate scientist James Hansen, a longtime employee of NASA who recently resigned to engage in climate activism, paints a grim picture of a future Earth left virtually uninhabitable by current warming trends. The paper, published Monday, concludes that energy-related decisions being made by today’s government leaders will ultimately “determine the fate of humanity.”

    ….with average temperatures rising 16 degrees Celsius on land and 30 degrees Celsius at the poles, would leave just a fraction of humanity clinging to life atop Earth’s highest ridges.

    James Hansen from a paper co-authored with former NASA colleagues

    “I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I have the good fortune to live in one of the few remaining places on earth that has a stable democracy, food, education, healthcare and, above all, a healthy environment.

    How much longer will this paradise last? I’m not sure. I’m very sad to say there’s a very good chance that by the time my two young sons reach adulthood, the safe and healthy world that we all took for granted will be gone. Finished.”

    David Cunliffe The Dolphin and the dole queue

  11. Jenny says:

    Chris you mentioned all the major players

    Hipkins, King, Cosgrove, Goff, Shearer, Ardern, Moroney, Parker, Robertson, Jones, Faafoi.

    You covered all the important shadow ministries.

    Finance, Education, Health, Trade, Defence, Foreign affairs, Police, Corrections, Social development, Labour, Justice, Broadcasting.

    You left out climate change.

    Humanity is at war, a war in which entire ecosystems face extinction, a war in which the expected human death toll is in the millions, a war in which even the survival of humanity itself may hang in the balance.

    You may disagree and many on the left do.

    The National government have two cabinet ministers, a Minister and an Associate Minister for climate change.

    David Cunliffe made one of his main policy speeches on it.

    Most of the remaining fossil fuel carbon is in coal and unconventional oil and gas. Thus, it seems, humanity stands at a fork in the road. As conventional oil and gas are depleted, will we move to carbon-free energy and efficiency—or to unconventional fossil fuels and coal? If fossil fuels were made to pay their costs to society, costs of pollution and climate change, carbon-free alternatives might supplant fossil fuels over a period of decades. However, if governments force the public to bear the external costs and even subsidize fossil fuels, carbon emissions are likely to continue to grow, with deleterious consequences for young people and future generations.

    James Hansen from a paper co-authored with former NASA colleagues

    It is currently major New Zealand government policy to massively increase our CO2 emissions, in the quest for “growth”.

    The New Zealand National government is in the process of increasing the search for “unconventional oil and gas” mentioned by Hansen, It is one of National’s main policy directions, even paying $millions to subsidise oil exploration companies to come here to do so.
    At the government’s bidding, Andarko are preparing to begin prospecting for deep sea oil off the South Island.
    The recent Supreme Court decision determined that current legislation forbids objections based on climate change to be considered in consent hearings for new coal mines, which will allow the massive new coal mine on the Denniston plateau to proceed.

    Any new administration will have to decide whether to overturn, or uphold these two policy decisions.

    The UN says our political leaders are failing us on climate change.

    International leaders are failing in their fight against global warming, one of the United Nations’ top climate officials says.

    Halldor Thorgeirsson today told journalists gathered at London’s Imperial College that world leaders weren’t working hard enough to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change.

    He appealed directly to the world’s voters to pressure their politicians into taking tougher action against the buildup of greenhouse gases.

    ”We are failing as an international community,” he said.

    ”We are not on track.”……

    ……Quizzed on the repeated failure of the international community to organize a global deal on greenhouse gases, he said that the politicians involved had to be held to account.

    ”This is a question that needs to be asked at the ballot box,” he said.

    ”This is a question that needs to be asked of leaders at all levels.”

    Chris, you are one of those leaders.

    Even the National Government realise that Climate Change is a major portfolio, for you to leave it out is a glaring oversight.

    Hopefully Chris you left climate change out because you are preparing a post on how you think a Labour led administration will handle this major portfolio.

  12. […] Cunliffe announced that Kris Faafoi would be Labour’s spokesperson for broadcasting, some, like Chris Trotter, were critical about putting someone so inexperienced into such an important role for left […]