Political commentator Chris Trotter says Labour leader David Shearer has had a good start to the year.
During his first year in charge, Mr Shearer came under much criticism for his shambling, uninspiring performances in front of the camera.
In November last year, then 3 News political editor Duncan Garner called him a "stuttering, incoherent mess", and said that he'd gone "backwards – not forwards" since taking on the role following Labour's heavy defeat at the 2011 general election.
But delivering his 'state of the nation' yesterday at the Wainuiomata Rugby Football Club, Mr Shearer did well, says Mr Trotter.
"I watched the delivery last night, and certainly he is improving in terms of what people see on television," Mr Trotter told Firstline this morning.
"He was on just a few minutes ago and once again, he didn't stumble, he didn't stutter – this is a good start to the year.
"He had a terrible first year, and he really needs to get this year rolling with an image that most people can at least not recoil from in horror and disbelief, so that's a good start."
Mr Shearer's speech was lacking in new policy, which may have blunted its impact somewhat.
"He didn't have any new policy to announce and that's a shame in a way, because so many people were focused on this, the cameras were there, he had a good audience – if there had been something he said which we hadn't heard before, I think it would have been a better day for him," says Mr Trotter.
Barring "some absolutely spectacular pratfalls", Mr Trotter says it is unlikely leadership rival David Cunliffe will have a shot at leading the party into the 2014 election.
"I think the challenge from Cunliffe was always more apparent than real, and I think that's being kind to those who talked it up into a full-scale apocalypse.
"But David Cunliffe would not be accepted by the current caucus. If David Cunliffe is to become leader of the Labour Party at some point, it will only be if Mr Shearer fails in 2014 and the party as a whole gets a chance to vote in the months following that."
Though Mr Shearer is improving, he has a long way to go to catch up with Prime Minister John key, says Mr Trotter.
Mr Key surprised many with his Cabinet reshuffle last week, dropping two ministers he felt were underperforming. The move led many to question if this year we'd see less of the jokey Prime Minister that sings Christmas songs and models sportswear, and more of the Mr Key that led his co-workers in the finance industry to label him "the smiling assassin".
"I think it's the same John Key, and the John Key we have is just so adept at what he does," says Mr Trotter.
"He doesn't do it in the way that Labour and the Greens recognise as [leadership]. But it's leadership – albeit of a different kind – of a very high quality. He's surprised people – surprising people in politics is a wonderful thing to be able to do."
Mr Trotter praised Mr Key's political instincts in responding to a call last week to dump cats as pets.
"Perhaps it's on a much lower level, his response to Gareth Morgan's campaign of genocide against the moggies was, 'I think the man is barking – or should that be meowing? – mad,' you know, he said that [Mr Key's cat] Moonbeam couldn't catch a cold, let alone a bird.
"Now given that one in two New Zealand households has one or two cats, this is good politics. It was there for any politician to pick up… but only he had the smarts, almost in an offhand way, to make every cat lover go, 'Well said, Mr Key. Don't let them touch my Snuffles!'"