© Nick Perry/AP Photo Andrew Little‘s first test will be when he questions the Prime Minister in parliament.When parliament sits on Tuesday, Andrew Little will be eyeballing John Key across the floor of the debating chamber, NZ Newswire political columnist Peter Wilson writes.
Little will ask the first question, the leader of the opposition to the prime minister.
It’s where the rubber hits the road, the benches will be packed, and if Little makes a mess of it he’ll be off to a very bad start.
He almost certainly won’t, because he’ll have prepared carefully. It’s just as equally certain he won’t get the best of Key, because he’s good and he’ll be sharp.
Their interchanges will be intently watched by both sides.
What goes on in the chamber isn’t usually of much interest to anyone outside of it, because the big announcements are made at press conferences.
But for MPs it’s vital. It’s called “winning the house” and has a huge impact on caucus morale.
David Shearer was hopeless at it, which was one of the reasons he was dumped.
David Cunliffe was much better but never really had Key on the back foot.
Andrew Little was a backbencher until Tuesday this week. He’s a second term MP, he hasn’t had much chance to ask any questions.
When he takes the hot seat he should have his front bench sorted out and sitting alongside him.
He’s been talking to his MPs for the last few days, asking them what they want and telling them what they’ll get.
So far he hasn’t given anything away.
He’s said Grant Robertson, the caucus favourite in the leadership election, will have an important role.
Deputy leader, possibly, although Little has previously said he thinks a woman should have that role.
Finance spokesman is another possibility. Robertson hasn’t previously held a senior financial portfolio but he’s a highly competent and experienced MP.
Little is in a bind over the finance portfolio. Outside of leader and deputy it’s the most important front bench position and David Parker had made it his own.
But having received a thrashing – his own words – in the leadership election, Parker says he doesn’t want it any longer. He isn’t interested in being deputy either.
“I’ve been doing a fair bit of the heavy lifting, I’m happy to take a step back,” was his first reaction to the election result.
Little should try to persuade him to change his mind, if he hasn’t tried already.
Parker produced an alternative budget for the general election campaign which was generally regarded as being exceptionally comprehensive and well-presented.
The only Labour MP with anything like his ability is David Cunliffe, who has previously held the portfolio.
Cunliffe says he’ll do anything Little asks of him, and he would jump at it.
But offering it would be a big risk. Although Cunliffe says he won’t again challenge for the leadership, some of his opponents in caucus aren’t at all sure he’s given up for good.
There’s still an element of the old ABC (anyone but Cunliffe) Club within the caucus, MPs who would see a senior appointment as a divisive move by Little.
Setting aside Robertson and Cunliffe, there really isn’t much for Little to choose from.
The government is fascinated by all of this, and if Labour’s new finance spokesman is a soft target there will be some heavy hitting going on.