Politicians exhibit a propensity for navel-gazing. But the recent level of attention around Andrew Little’s digestive tract is extraordinary.
National’s Judith Collins asserted that he had “no guts”. A day earlier, her boss Prime Minister John Key challenged the Labour leader to “get some guts”.
Little rose to the challenge fairly quickly.
On Wednesday, he promptly stripped Carmel Sepuloni of her shadow welfare portfolio on learning her mother faced benefit fraud charges.
A brave move for a former union boss and employment lawyer.
Little really had no option. He has repeatedly questioned Key’s judgment over now ex-MP Mike Sabin, who was at the centre of a police inquiry. The thrust of his argument was that Sabin’s chairmanship of the law and order select committee was a clear conflict of interest.
It seems unfair Sepuloni was punished for the alleged sins of her mother and to preserve the unassailability of her boss.
But Little neutralised some of the unjustness by indicating he will reinstate Sepuloni down the track. She retained her rank and position as junior whip.
As he marked 100 days in office on Thursday, this tough love was also indication of Little’s confidence in his own position. A leader could only have made that call if he was sure he had the backing of his caucus.
He also took Key’s intemperate attack in his stride. The prime minister unleashed fury, first in a press conference and then during a parliamentary debate, accusing Little of dishonesty and cowardice in his position on deployment of troops to Iraq.
Little waited until a slot on breakfast telly – usually a favourite conduit of his rival – to retaliate. “When we are talking about guts, I think I reserve that for the soldiers . . . you don’t need much guts to sit on a leather couch in Wellington and send people off to do your bidding for you.”