OPINION: David Shearer did what he had to do yesterday to lessen the pressure on him, but it was just the first hurdle in what is shaping as a pivotal week for his leadership.
His "standup" with the media on his way into the weekly caucus meeting - an event that has all too often been a train wreck of stumbled words and unclear explanations - was relatively fluent and to the point.
More workmanlike than masterful, but that made it seem a relative triumph.
Honours were even with a below-par Prime Minister John Key during question time in the House.
In fact, the two had earlier stroked each other as "nice guys" - though with a barb from Mr Key, who noted he had faced tougher opponents in Helen Clark and Phil Goff. "Whether he's a good leader is a different issue", was Mr Key's kiss-off.
Taken as a whole, though, Mr Shearer's performance yesterday ought to draw some of the poison from the pens on Left-wing blogs and in the fists of the commentariat.
But his biggest test comes in Auckland on Sunday, with his first speech at an annual conference as leader.
It would be a major surprise if it was anything other than well crafted. And it is set to deliver a key part of the party's social policy agenda, through a push on affordable housing that should soothe the party's Left wing, which has seen more to like in David Cunliffe's policy prescription than in Mr Shearer's more centrist rhetoric.
The bear pit where Mr Shearer has been mauled, though, has been in after-speech press conferences.
He must show he can articulate policy, away from his speech notes, explain the detail, be on top of the economic and fiscal implications and present himself as an architect of the policy, not just its mouthpiece.
Oh, and deliver it all with a bit of political "mongrel".
Delegates will want to see they have a political fighter at their head, not just a good guy with an impressive backstory.
Nice he may be, by universal - and prime ministerial - acclaim.
But there is such a thing as being damned with faint praise.
And anyway, don't they say that nice guys finish last?
- © Fairfax NZ News