Hooton on Cunliffe

Matthew Hooton writes in NBR:

David Shearer has again faced down his rival, David Cunliffe. Now he must decide what to do with him. …

Despite having been confirmed as party leader three times in a little over a year, Mr Shearer can have no confidence that Mr Cunliffe will accept today’s result by behaving any differently than his record suggests.

There is no point trying to unify the party by granting the New Lynn MP a senior role. The Clark/Cullen or Brash/English olive-branch approach just won’t work.

Mr Shearer should look instead at how Mr Key and Mr English ruthlessly despatched Dr Brash in 2006 as his model.

By getting him out of parliament altogether, Mr Key made sure Dr Brash could not become a focal point for any National MPs who were uncomfortable with the centrist direction he intended to take the party.

Any suggestion Dr Brash might ever return to the leadership was pre-emptively void and National was accordingly unified around the new direction Mr Key and Mr English had decided to take the party.

Mr Cunliffe and his crew have been a drag on Labour’s ability to unify for four years and there is no sign they have any intention of changing. The best way for Mr Shearer to unify the party is to cut his throat now by indicating he will never be returned to a senior role.

 If it leads to a byelection in New Lynn, so much the better. Byelections are always good for oppositions and Mr Shearer’s promise of 100,000 cheap houses is bound to be popular among Labour voters out west.

I disagree with Matthew on this. I think that Shearer should give Cunliffe a meaningful portfolio in the reshuffle, and offer him a path back the front bench.  Of course he can not return to the front bench immediately, but there should be a path back. The best thing to do would be to give him a chunky portfolio, but away from anything economic as that may allow him to upstage Parker.

Health wouldn’t be a bad pick for Cunliffe. He is a former Minister. No other health spokesperson (including Grant Robertson) has come close to ruffling Tony Ryall. If Cunliffe could hurt the Government on health, that would be the sort of win that would make it possible to then put him back on the front bench.

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