Skip the reshuffle, Mr Shearer

RICHARD LONG
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2012

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Richard Long

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OPINION: Could someone caution Labour leader David Shearer: don't do it. Hold him down if necessary; handcuff him, hypnotise him. But don't let him go ahead with that frontbench reshuffle when all his stars are in alignment.

He has never seen National in such disarray. The ridiculous Dotcom saga keeps exploding, as Fairfax national editor Vernon Small notes, like a cluster bomb.

The hugely-rated education minister, Hekia Parata, once tipped as a leadership prospect, keeps putting on the dunce's cap. The asset sales programme is in disarray. We have not resolved who owns the water, with the Maori king and Prime Minister John Key diametrically opposed.

Why on earth would Labour choose this time to start a civil war in its own ranks with a reshuffle, which is bound to aggravate the factions. Best for an Opposition leader to bite his tongue, suppress his frustration, and get on with needling the Government.

Mr Shearer should draw huge encouragement from the American example of the underdog trouncing the favourite in the first of the American presidential race debates.

Mr Key, the newcomer, was more than able to deal with the wily former prime minister Helen Clark in the debates that set the seal on his first election win. It has always been presumed that he would make mincemeat of Mr Shearer when the time came.

But out of the blue in America the discounted and parodied Republican candidate Mitt Romney dished out a hiding to President Barak Obama in their first face-off last week. It was Mr Romney who looked vibrant and confident while the president looked strangely tired, defensive and dispirited.

Even the next day, trying to pick up the pieces, Mr Obama failed the test, telling an awfully silly story: "You know, four years ago I said that I'm not a perfect man and I wouldn't be a perfect president, and that's probably a promise Governor Romney probably thinks I've kept."

Ahead in the polls and over confident, Mr Obama appears to be ignoring the advice from his experts and playing his own game. Republican guru Karl Rove would have thrashed any of his proteges for that comment on top of that debate. So would those tough Australian political gurus, Crosby Textor.

American columnist Joe Klein, always a guru in my view (he authored, as "Anonymous", that astonishing book, Primary Colours, on Bill Clinton's race for the White House), said Mr Obama's performance was one of the most inept he had ever seen by a sitting president. Mr Romney by contrast was calm, clear, convincing - and nearly human.

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Human is not a word many would have for Mr Romney, especially those who have read Rolling Stone's annihilation of Mr Romney's behaviour with his predatory company, Bain Capital.

But Mr Shearer is not plagued by that background. He has the politically perfect back story of a nice guy. With the Romney debate example all he has to do is keep his left up in his sparring bouts with Mr Key, but in the meantime not rark up intra-party rivalries in his own team, in spite of what the TV pundits are telling him to do.

As for Dotcom, having a field day as a result of the security agency fallout and selling himself as a folk hero because of the overdone police raid and the eavesdropping blunder, it is impossible to predict the outcome of extradition procedures, but surely it is time for that residency-for-donation loophole to be reassessed.

At least one Cabinet minister was uneasy about Dotcom's past. His bid to buy his Coatesville property was turned down, but he gained residency by investing $10 million in New Zealand, so making the GCSB surveillance of his activities illegal.

The surveillance saga is a technicality, with police and GCSB legal advisers assuming, incorrectly, that it was legal. Disciplinary action and a shake-up of the agency can be expected as a result of that. But blaming Mr Key for the saga is just political gamesmanship. In fact he is to be commended for making public his private report that there could have been three other incorrect surveillance operations. That's now the subject of further investigation.

- The Dominion Post

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