Colin Espiner reckons that Rich’s departure will hurt the Nats. “She represented”, he says, “precisely the sort of social liberal, moderate, youthful face that the party needs to counter the tougher, drier, and more conservative side of National. The one that the public is still, sometimes, afraid of.”
He accepts her reason for leaving though, stating, “there’s no hint that her departure has anything to do with either Key or the party’s direction, however”. Vernon Small also believes Rich and Key’s highly scripted explanation that she’s leaving solely for family reasons.
I don’t have any doubt that family personal concern might be an issue for an MP in her position (as they evidently were for people like Paul Swain and Steve Maharey) but Vernon and Colin’s analysis runs counter to the persistent rumours around the Beehive that Rich has been deeply unhappy in the National caucus since being stripped of the welfare portfolio by Brash.
Add to this the fact that as a three-term MP she’s only known the frustration of opposition and now, rightly or wrongly, must have felt that a ministerial post was within her grasp and I think you’d have to conclude there’s more going on than the Nats are letting on.
Of course this isn’t the only internal friction that they’re keeping under wraps. There are other dissatisfied National MPs who are widely known to be giving thought to their futures. Some feel they have been overlooked, others, underutilised. Still others are merely biding their time.
The Nats are certainly showing more discipline than ever before – it’s amazing what 8 years in opposition can do – I just wonder how long it can last.