Monday, December 20, 2004

Si non confectus non reficiat

Opposition eaction to today's cabinet reshuffle, in which remarkably little shuffling seems to have been done has been some variation on the "same tired old faces" line. But what did they really expect? Labour has some very strong Ministers in key portfolios - Maharey in Social Development, Goff in Foreign Affairs, Mallard in Education - and while some may want to try their hands at something new, and new talent must be trained up for the eventual renewal, it would have simply been madness to change everything less than a year out from an election. In this reshuffle, Helen Clark seems to have once again shown that her maxim is the same as Lord Vetinari's: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

The most interesting moves are Hodgson, Mallard, and David Benson-Pope. Hodgson is an uber-wonk, and getting him into the commerce portfolio gives him an area he can tinker with to his heart's content. Mallard is the shitkicker, and moving him to energy probably means a few key industry players are going to have their kneecaps broken. I'd guess that its mainly the gas sector which is the target, though some attempt to fix our dysfunctional market mechanisms may also be in the pipeline. As for Benson-Pope, they're clearly grooming him for a succession, to free up Mallard for other duties in a couple of years.

The problem is that aforementioned renewal. It has to happen eventually - while Labour's senior ministers are still relatively young, they will move on one day, and thought must be given to ensuring that there are people capable of taking their place. Unfortunately, worries about having to share the cabinet table after the next election, coupled with a desire to avoid major changes (and their implication that someone has fucked up) mean that not enough attention is being paid to this. National's current line-up - a rump of talentless no-hopers and overambitious has-beens - provides a salutory reminder of the importance of thinking long-term and regularly promoting new blood. Unless Labour wants to end up in the same boat after its eventual election defeat (and they will lose one day), it needs to start planning for the future.