Editorial: Not exactly a rush of blood

Labour leader David Cunliffe.
Labour leader David Cunliffe.

The reddened metaphors around David Cunliffe's caucus selections have been getting sticky.

Some commentators were fair bursting blood vessels.

Would it be a bloodletting, a transfusion, or just a bit anaemic? Would it lead to bad blood, blood feuds or blood brothers?

Would it stir the blood, raise blood pressure, or at least let the stuff congeal around party wounds?

As it happens, Mr Cunliffe could be said to have taken a sanguine approach. He has put together a series of balanced decisions and some pretty fair assessments of where talents lay.

And where they didn't. Dunedin MP Clare Curran's demotion was perhaps the most resounding and emphatic thud; far moreso than the demotion of fellow southerner David Clark who, unlike her, has had to make room for reasons more tactical than dismissive.

Southern Labour representation at the upper caucus level would have been looking sparse indeed were it not for the sensible call to appoint David Parker as both deputy and finance spokesman.

He can be compared to National's Bill English on more than geographical grounds.

One of Mr Cunliffe's leadership rivals, Grant Robertson, returns to the education portfolio and is shadow leader of the house. The other, Shane Jones, takes employment and economic development roles, pitting him against Steven Joyce, one of National's more formidable ministers. This will be a real test of not only his mettle, but his discipline.

Arch Cunliffe critic Chris Hipkins not only keeps education, but moves up the rankings, a promotion that - no doubt only incidentally - represents something of a raised digit to one or two platter-polishing pundits.

Old-guard Labour members from the Clark years have had mixed fortunes. Annette King is still judged to have some political canines, so she's a survivor, not just keeping the health portfolio but moving up the rankings, whereas former leader Phil Goff has been directed to the door and Trevor Mallard to an upper-storey window.

That Mr Cunliffe has himself replaced the hapless Ms Curran as communications and technology spokesman is being taken as an acknowledgement of its modern-day importance. Fair enough, though it's perhaps partly a personal call.

Mr Cunliffe is both a technology nerd and former minister - it's a role he hated losing, and he returns to the field just in time to wade into the stoush over the ultra-fast broadband scheme and the Government's proposed intervention in the copper broadband market.

This is, he says, a united team. In a present, workable sense, sure. But tick-tock. More than any other New Zealand party, Labour brings together a wide spectrum of political views from the centre right to the deep left and these factions will hold together so long as the prospect, or at least promise, of a return to power can be dangled in front of them.

The rather wan Labour joke has become that the famous Anyone But Cunliffe brigade has become All Behind Cunliffe brigade. If, as they're saying, he's keeping his friends close and his enemies closer, his caucus will need to start gaining traction soon enough or else he's going to be spending a lot of time looking back over his shoulder at some of those people behind him.

The Southland Times