Sunday, September 25, 2005

Cabinet Shake-up?

Helen Bain has on the front page of the Sunday Star Times an article about Helen Clark's plans to dump underperforming ministers if she gets to form a third term cabinet. But by the second paragraph, it's revealed to be journalistic speculation about what she is expected to do as the "Sources close to Clark" are used only to support detail about a cabinet reshuffle last year.

Purportedly the Labour Caucus choses the cabinet but in practice, the party leader informs the caucus of what choices he or she will accept. The leader is constrained by the need to appease the factions, which is one of the reasons why George Hawkins has remained in cabinet for as long as he has.

Ministers in Cabinet

Michael Cullen has been Helen Clark's chief lieutenant since he was bought off after a leadership challenge in 1996. Although highly dependable, he has messed his record in a big way by refusing to announce significant tax cuts in this year's budget. Can he be replaced? Helen Bain thinks no but does suggest Trevor Mallard and Steve Maharey as possibles.

Jim Anderton has had a presence in Cabinet way beyond his parliamentary clout. Having only two MPs in the Jim Anderton's Personality Cult Progressive Coalition has somehow entitled him to a number three ranking in Cabinet when Peter Dunne, with eight MPs, only had a family commission. In this term with only himself to adore his genius, I'm dubious that he even merits a cabinet position.

Steve Maharey at number four while being a pillar of Helen's government has largely kept his nose clean by not being seen to be responsible for anything at all. This stems from the hillarious bruising that he received from Christine Rankin's employment tribunal hearing. But the cost of cleaniness is that he gets very little done.

Phil Goff, although number five, has been kept at arm's reach due to his ambition to be Prime Minister one day. When he answered questions in the House on behalf of the Prime Minister earlier this year, the event was significant enough to merit notice. A possible black mark in having dirtied his hands is unlikely to be seen as such in the Labour caucus although he has been defensive when asked about it in the House. Helen Bain reckons his position is safe. I expect him to take a more prominent role in Helen's next goverment to provide her with the needed whiff of fresh air - the only problem is what portfolio to give him that will also prevent him from making trouble.

Annette King has been stuck in Health for so long that the portfolio could do with a breath of fresh air. Yet the very reason why she remained in Health was that she was the only person Helen trusted to implement her policies. Hence I have a feeling she will continue to be mired in Health.

Jim Sutton is speculated in the article to be on the way out because he lost his electorate seat. If true, this would be unjust as the causes of his loss were Helen's speeding motorcade and Mallard's school closures.

Trevor Mallard is prominent as the Cabinet's hard man. Despite being tipped to remain, his record is tarnished by the twin fiascos of NCEA and Te Wanaga. I would be extremely surprised if Helen choses to retain him in the Education portfolio.

Peter Hodgson is also speculated to remain in Cabinet despite having bungled Kyoto. Which only illustrates the paucity of material that Helen has to refresh her Cabinet.

Parekura Horomia is tipped to retain Maori Affairs because he held his seat against the Maori party. Personally I would rather take a punt and hand the portfolio over to Pita Sharples of the Maori Party rather than leave it to list under this mediocrity.

George Hawkin's demotion has been widely tipped for some time and is long overdue.

Mark Burton is another almost certainty to remain. Since all he's done is play toy soldiers in this government so far, he is likely to be shifted to a more prominent role as another whiff of fresh air. The downside is that he didn't handle defense very well in the first term.

Paul Swain is tipped as a probable to be retained. Why he is not a safe is probably due to his department's bungling over Iraqi immigrants earlier this year. Since other ministers have committed similar or greater errors, I tend to see him as a certainty myself.

Marian Hobbs is also described as another probable. She bungled badly during her first term as Minister but has since matured somewhat. A plus in her favour is that she retained her electorate seat although that was largely due to her opponent's misfortunes rather than her personal talents. I don't consider her to be an effective minister but given Clark's low standards, that won't count against her.

Ruth Dyson looks set to be retained. The SST article doesn't mention her at all which is probably an oversight. The only blemish on her record is her drink-driving conviction which she has done penance for.

Chris Carter is described by the SST as another probable. Given that he hasn't done anything bad that I can recall, I'm inclined to upgrade his cabinet position to safe.

Rick Barker is tipped to be in doubt although why is not stated. Given that he did unusually poorly in his electorate seat, I suspect a skeleton in the closet that has not yet come to light.

David Benson-Pope is in limbo as a result of the tennis ball allegations. He had sufficent clout to be partially reinstated to Cabinet after the original allegations were raised. Yet he has not been cleared and if he were to be charged, the fallout would be damaging. This is likely to be a troublesome decision to make and I would evade the issue by choosing a smaller cabinet which wouldn't have any room for David.

Ministers outside Cabinet

Judith Tizard, the first minister outside cabinet, hasn't done much to warrant promotion despite serving two terms. I suspect her portfolio is pure patronage to keep her happy.

Dover Samuels is likely to be dismissed from his associate ministerial portfolios because he didn't retain his Maori seat in this election. His time on the backbenches is likely to be less troublesome than his brief stay during Labour's first term.

Damien O'Connor is tipped as safe but he isn't in Cabinet yet. He was widely tipped to get the last cabinet opening but was pipped by David Benson-Pope. If there is room, I expect Damien to be promoted into Cabinet.

Harry Duynhoven is another minister whose position is in doubt. He's always been on the outer in this government despite having been in parliament since 1987. I presume the hard times in patronage would give Helen an excuse to axe his portfolios.

Taito Phillip Field is under a cloud due to a scandal about his conduct that blew up in the last week of the election campaign and potentially tarnished other ministers. He is unlikely to retain his ministerial portfolios as a result.

David Cunliffe is also likely to be axed simply because a) he is in the wrong faction and b) is unpopular. On the other hand, he could be elevated into Cabinet on the grounds of needed fresh air and competence.

Mita Ririnui: Who? Likely to be axed due to diminished importance as he lost his seat to the Maori Party in this year's elections.

Possible New Ministers

Lianne Dalziel: a competent minister who was sacked because she lied to the media. She's likely to come back into cabinet after having done her penance but seems not to have learned her lesson.

Clayton Cosgrove: Experienced Labour MP with rare business experience. Unlikely to elevated due to being a cupid stunt when Helen became Labour party leader.

Winnie Laban: likely to be elevated to handle the Pacific Island Affairs portfolio simply because Taito Field looks like a goner.

Darren Hughes: likely to be elevated to handle the Youth affairs portfolio because he is the only MP under 30.