OPINION: Labour Party leader David Shearer has hardly set the world alight since his elevation to the position a year ago, but it is far too early to write him off.
After the last election, Labour was in a parlous situation, with its support at the ballot box falling to an all-time low 27 per cent share of the vote. It was a rout.
In came Mr Shearer as the new leader, and while he is not a naturally aggressive politician in the Rob Muldoon-Winston Peters mould, his background suggests a steely determination that gets things done incrementally, rather than in leaps and bounds under the glare of the political spotlight.
That is why it is no surprise the polls have started to ever so gradually turn around in Labour's favour. A series of recent polls have shown the same trend, with support for National dipping by 3-4 per cent, and Labour's stocks rising by about the same amount, meaning it is consistently polling around 33 per cent and rising.
Significantly, if the current polling was translated into seats in Parliament, National would struggle to form a government.
That scenario has made the perfect backdrop for Mr Shearer to flex his political muscle within the party, and he is showing a willingness to do just that by confirming he is considering a likely reshuffle of some of the key portfolios before Christmas.
Mr Shearer also confirmed his entire front bench would be subject to scrutiny. There are some obvious contenders for demotion, with Nanaia Mahuta being the leading one.
Labour has quite rightly considered education as one area in which it can successfully take on the Government.
Despite it reeling from one disaster to another - and this Government does seem to have the knack of upsetting pretty much everyone in the education sector - Ms Mahuta has made little impact with the shadow education portfolio.
She may well owe much to the fact that she was David Cunliffe's running mate in his unsuccessful bid to take over the leadership. Mr Shearer no doubt was extending an olive branch by offering her a front row spot.
However, despite the fertile nature of that portfolio, Ms Mahuta has not performed and Associate Minister Chris Hipkins would appear to be a better bet.
Mr Shearer did give his colleagues ample warning of a likely reshuffle when he announced his front bench on assuming the leadership. He indicated a review was likely in 12 months and now the time is up, he is being true to his word.
John Key's Government is in disarray as never before and if Labour wants to oust them in two years, its front bench needs to be firing better than it has been to date.
Mr Shearer has publicly stated he will reward his strongest performers and with Mr Hipkins landing some telling blows on under-seige Education Minister Hekia Parata, he seems an obvious choice.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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