Andrew Little has led Labour for about a week, and so far he’s managed to address some of the party’s biggest perception problems. Since Helen left for the UN, the party has looked weak, fake, divided, and stale.
The party has looked weak because it hasn’t been able to land easily understandable hits on the government (Shane Jones aside). The party has looked fake because two of its last four leaders have screamed inauthenticity. The party has looked divided because of near-constant caucus knife fights. The party has looked stale because many of its current MPs are leftovers from the Clark era.
Little has addressed the appearance of weakness by coming out swinging. He has hammered the Government over the report by the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. He hasn’t shied from calling out this government and he’s done it with enough fire to end up on the six o’clock news.
Little’s emphasis on front-footing issues helps shake the fakeness that oozed out of Cunliffe and Goff. He has distilled complex issues down to intuitive plain English. You don’t get much clearer than “cut the crap and apologise for running a smear campaign.” In doing so, Little has put National on the defensive, and is taking control of the discussion.
Little has addressed the perception of division with his caucus rankings and portfolio allocation. He has put a lid on dissent by drawing in some rivals, and driving others from the front bench.
Nanaia Mahuta has moved her up two places to number four, likely due to her supporters putting Little over the line. He has also disrupted the rival Gracinda power couple by pushing Jacinda Ardern down the list and bringing Grant Robertson up. Little also gave Robertson the Finance portfolio, which will ensure any serious Labour policy has Grant’s fingerprints all over it. It also gives Grant a prestige bump, and will hopefully keep him too busy to get up to mischief. There is less time for scheming when you are buried beneath Econ101 textbooks.
Similarly, Little has addressed the perception that the party is stale by pushing all former leaders and Clark era MPs down to the middle of the list. David Shearer might feel a little aggrieved considering his work in foreign affairs, but Little needs to put distance between himself and former leaders. Tough luck David(s).
The exception is the capable Annette, King of Rongotai, but I doubt she will be deputy for too long. She gets a sunset spot as deputy leader, and then I suspect she’ll be put out to pasture. Additionally, Party president Moira Coatsworth has quietly resigned. It’s not obvious how much say Little had, but the move helps refresh the party.
Another quiet change was Chris Hipkins. He has kept the Education portfolio, but has picked up the role of Spokesperson for photo-bombing. Since then Chris Hipkins has been promoted to the Labour website homepage, and continues to appear behind Little in press conferences. If Hipkins carries on this way, he could potentially be in the background of a Labour Prime Minister! Here’s a few shots of the man himself.