John Key’s days are numbered. His personal popularity is falling. His brand is tied to unpopular asset sales and a pokies for convention centre deal that is now subject to an Auditor-General investigation. He’s not winning the next election. So a change of leader is coming: pre-election or post. But who can succeed him? Parata? Collins? Joyce? They’re all shot.
Hekia Parata was the great hope of the English faction, the remnants of the Brat Pack (don’t think English has power? The guy’s Deputy PM and Finance Minister, every minister has had to turn to him for help at one time or another). She was also popular with the Boag Faction, the ones who only believe in getting a brand to sell. A strong Maori woman who rose to high levels from a poor beginning, she was right out of central casting.
Pity she’s useless. Parata’s notorious problems with keeping her staff turned out to be the first sign of a person promoted well above her skill level – as often happens with people who have the perfect ‘brand’. It wasn’t just that her education policy was the biggest slap in the face to the crucial mortgage belt voting bloc that National has delivered thus far. It was Parata’s complete inability to communicate and sell a difficult position under pressure. She’s proven she doesn’t have the right stuff.
Judith Collins has her own faction – the social conservatives. Although she’s got the strong woman brand, that whole Thatcher thing and likes to call herself Crusher although she still hasn’t crushed a single fucken car, Collins would never be electable. She has no economic credibility and her social conservatism is out of step with the country. Collins voted for Gordon Copeland’s Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill in 2005, which would have codified the law defining marriage as between a man and a woman and was heavily defeated (it’s so hilarious to see Cameron Slater, chief Collins Faction cheerleader, going on about how he is pro marriage equality at every opportunity he gets, trying to distract from Collins’ homophobia).
But Collins’ bigger problem is the ACC debacle. She was given that portfolio as a lark; she was menat to bring a steel to the privatisation reforms that Nick Smith had lacked (it’s typical of this government to think you can make something work just by putting a bully in charge – cf Brownlee in Christchurch). But, far from getting the Government’s agenda moving, Collins has completely lost control of events. National’s handpicked man to push through privatisation is gone (whether he was pushed or jumped is irrelevant). Collins’ people tried to spin that as her ‘crushing’ him. Yeah, crushing their own man, that makes sense. That spin fell over completely the CEO quit and it was revealed that ACC has spent $89,000 on outside spin doctors and polling to try to manage Collins’ mess . She is now a minister with a portfolio in disarray. The privatisation agenda is dead in the water and all the senior people National needed in place to make any progress are gone.
Just as Parata will forever be defined by the class sizes debacle, the implosion of ACC will stick to Collins for the rest of her career and kill her leadership ambitions.
And there’s still the question of who leaked the email that Michelle Boag sent to Collins. Her defamation suits will be the final nails in her coffin. She’s not going to win. No court in the land is going to give ministers the protection of defamation law against normal political criticism. And when she loses, the public will naturally conclude it is because she is the leaker.
What about Steven Joyce? Ideologically, he’s of Key’s ilk. Nah. He’s got a reputation well beyond his ability, built entirely on winning an unloseable election (having lost the previous unloseable election) and being in the right place at the right time in commercial radio. His record as a minister is piss-weak. He has delivered precisely nothing: ultrafast broadband has to be taken off him, tertiary is a shambles, roading is broke after splurging billions on useless vanity projects and economic development – what economic development? His big ideas for economic development are digging up more stuff and selling off the law for more pokies to get a convention centre that no-one would invest in on its own merits without a government kick-back.
Yesterday, he made a fool of himself trying to lecture Russel Norman on not picking winners while defending subisidies for oil, agriculture, and trucking. His tendency to make enemies quickly shows when he accused the powerful businesspeople, including Rob Fyfe and Stephen Tindall, behind Pure Advantage of only being out to get themselves subsidies. He doesn’t have the self-control or the likeability to get elected. He can’t even win an electorate and doesn’t try. Like Key, he has tied his personal brand to the pokies for convention centre deal that is about to get ripped apart by the Auditor-General.
Who can they turn to? Bill English? He’s as unelectable as ever. After him, you’re down to third tier nobodies. Simon Bridges, Amy Adams, or Paula Bennett? Get real. Bridges could do it some day – very much in the Key-style he can spin a line all day and looks the part – but he’s a long way from ready. The others just don’t have the chops. Being a minister is one thing, being a leader is quite another.
So, who can National find post-Key?
Maybe they’ll have to get out the lightening rods and try to revive Brash again.