The cleverness of David Cunliffe’s reshuffle extends beyond how he has united Labour by keeping worthy MPs who opposed him in senior positions while demoting no-hopers like Curran. He’s also left space for the Greens to move into both in opposition and in government. That acknowledges the reality that Labour and the Greens need each other.
Economic Development: yes, Shane Jones showed he can crack out a good line or two (at about the rate he cracks out bad ones, in fact) but no-one’s under any illusions that he’ll do the necessary hard work as Economic Development spokesperson, let alone as Economic Development Minister. There space, then, for Russel Norman. He’s not going to be Finance Minister but he’s going to have enough bargaining power to demand nothing less than a senior economic role – economic development is the obvious answer, and Jones wouldn’t kick up a fuss.
Health: Annette King will almost certainly retire at the next election. Kevin Hague is a steady, if uninspiring, pair of hands with direct experience and expertise in managing the health system. Labour would happily have him as their own MP. He is a natural choice for health who won’t give Labour any headaches and will keep a lid on a difficult portfolio just like Ryall has.
Energy: David Shearer is going to be Foreign Affairs Minister. He obviously can’t then keep his new energy portfolio in government. That leaves energy for the Greens, too. I don’t see the current energy spokesperson, Gareth Hughes, as minister material. Maybe Norman would take it or Kennedy Graham.
Climate change: Moana Mackey or Kennedy Graham. It’s not much of a choice, eh? Graham would be a safe pair of hands and isn’t radical enough to scare Labour or worry them.
Conservation: Ruth Dyson is probably going to retire. Conservation is a natural Greens portfolio. Eugenie Sage is the spokesperson and would be an unspectacular, low-risk minister.
Transport: it stands out like a sore thumb in Cunliffe’s reshuffle. This $3 billion a year portfolio, which is held by National’s number 3, going to the heavily demoted Darien Fenton at number 25. The Greens’ spokesperson, Julie Anne Genter, is Parliament’s only transport expert and wipes the floor with Brownlee. Labour is very close to the Greens on transport policy but doesn’t want to burn a lot of political capital on cancelling National’s stupid motorways. They’ll be happy to let the Greens do the heavy lifting there.
That’s five Green ministers, maybe four of them in Cabinet. They would probably aim for seven ministers, five in cabinet based on current polling. So, there’s room for a bit of bargaining there, too.
You’ll notice that I haven’t suggested a portfolio for Metiria Turei. Two reasons: the portfolios she would be after are held by strong Labour MPs and there’s a school of thought that says the Greens would be smart to keep one of their co-leaders out of government, to maintain a separate identity from Labour. Or she might go for something like housing.
At the same time, by strengthening his line-up on finance, jobs,education, and work rights, Cunliffe is signalling the areas that are going to be home territory for Labour. He’s neatly giving the Greens space in areas where their people and their policies are competent and trustworthy while cementing Labour in the areas it will need to dominate to win back the non-vote and the aspirational working class who went to National.