Shearer smiles but still plenty to do

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 10:25 08/12/2012

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The secret diary of . . . a dinner in Maraetai Cunliffe labouring to make up ground On the road with Key Cliffhanger looms at general election Take your pick - lamb chops or steak Winston grinning at the sidelines The public deserves answers on spying Spy scandal impact on election far from certain Big tick for democracy Backlash now going in Key's favour?

OPINION: David Shearer is not out of the woods yet. But the latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos Poll is a ray of light. Disunity is usually punished in the polls but today's results suggest Labour avoided taking a big hit after its fractious annual conference last month.

Mr Shearer's personal standing was even enhanced by the way he shut down questions over his leadership by forcing a vote after rival David Cunliffe showed his hand.

Many people our pollsters spoke to applauded Mr Shearer for finally showing a bit of mongrel. They saw it as a sign that he was committed to putting a broken party back together again. It answered some - if not all - of their questions about the Labour leader, whose performance is often unconvincing.

It is a solid platform to build on but that is all. National remains hugely popular and is still polling above what it won the election with in 2008. Many voters told our pollsters they were sticking with National because they saw no alternative.

Disciplining errant caucus members with a heavy fist might do wonders for improving Mr Shearer's public image, but it does nothing to prove to wavering voters that Labour has the ability or the horsepower to make it in government.

Mr Shearer's next big test then will be his looming reshuffle. He acknowledges that Labour failed to draw a line between its lineup in 2011 and the last Labour government.

He accepts that he will have to draw that line more clearly if Labour wants to win in 2014.

That means putting some distance between himself and the increasingly polarising old-guard who supported him in his leadership. And it means striking while the iron is hot, and launching 2013 with a larger presence than in 2012, when he was nearly invisible.

If he doesn't, he may have to spend another year wondering who might be about to stab him in the back.

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- The Dominion Post

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