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The walking dead

Written By: - Date published: 2:45 pm, October 3rd, 2009 - 23 comments
Categories: bill english, corruption, john key, national/act government - Tags:

Fran O’Sullivan has laid out the business elite’s preferred successors to Bill English:

At this stage English is not mortally wounded. But his reputation as one of the Mr Cleans of New Zealand politics has been damaged.

And – more importantly for the Deputy Prime Minister’s political future – some of the more ambitious among his Cabinet colleagues no longer believe he has the right to expect long-term purchase on either the number two position nor his plum finance portfolio.

Already there is behind scenes speculation that a second-term National could see the personable Gerry Brownlee elevated to the Deputy PM’s role and business-friendly cabinet minister Steven Joyce taking on finance.

It can hardly be a coincidence that as English is on his deathbed and O’Sullivan is administering the last rites, Patrick Gower’s piece on the next page is lauding Joyce, talking up both his ideological similarity to Key (‘prgamatism’ ie ‘whatever we can get away with and nothing that will cause too big a backlash’) and his abilities as a minister.

Still, I can’t see Brownlee and Joyce replacing English as more than the dream scenario for the hard right in National. Brownlee’s time is past and Joyce is not up to taking on such a crucial role as finance. My money is still on Simon Power to take English’s place. He’s the only one to provide both the intellectual heft and commitment to the job that Key lacks and an ideological counterweight.

O’Sullivan thinks English will hang on until the next election. On principle, he ought to go now and I stand firmly on my assertion that anyone who cares about good, clean government should want this rorter of public funds gone. But, the reality is, he’s just as useful in immediate political terms, perhaps more so, if he stays on as a deadweight on National’s frontbench. Either a corrupt politician goes or English remains an albatross around Key’s neck; win-win for the Left.

It’s also apparent from O’Sullivan’s piece that the business elite that spent so much on donations and funding hard right interest groups to get Key elected is becoming increasingly frustrated with Key’s do-nothing style of government, and divisions in the Right are starting to re-emerge:

the truce Key forged with English by persuading him to jettison his own ambitions to relead National in return for the deputy leader and finance roles is no longer regarded as inviolate

the problem is that (so far) Key – whose personal poll ratings continue to mark him out as the poster boy for New Zealand politics – has not shown any real willingness to spend some of that easily earnt political capital on hard choices.

Increasingly the PM’s own obdurate stance on hot-button issues like the proposed capital gains tax and the age for entitlement to state-paid superannuation is becoming a talking point in business and bureaucratic circles. He is seen as closing off options that his Finance Minister should be exploring as a means to either produce more government revenue or ease the welfare bill.

Of course, we on the Left can be happy that Key hasn’t tried to push through some of the extreme-right policies that National’s backers favour but Key’s neglectful government is hardly benign, as the tens of thousands of newly unemployed will attest.

Both O’Sullivan and Gower have picked up on the fact that Key is losing interest in doing the serious business of being Prime Minister and that his backers seem less keen on having him stay around for an extended period:

O’Sullivan: Key is not in politics for the long haul and surely must want to leave a legacy [they’re talking about a legacy after less than a year!].

Gower: Key may leave before the 2014 election

The message from Granny Herald, mouthpiece of the Tory elite, to Key is loud and clear: ‘don’t get too comfy in the big chair, boy’. Cracks are opening very quickly in the once united face of the Right, and Labour is moving quickly to exploit them.

For the Left, this is all good news. The more the government is wracked by splits and divisions and paralysed by a lame duck Deputy and a PM more concerned with preening in front of the cameras than anything else, the less of the Right’s agenda will be progressed (especially as a more united and effective Left fights it at every turn) and the more likely victory in 2011 becomes.

For the Right, this debacle of a government should be a salutary lesson in the dangers of treating politics as nothing more than a PR exercise in getting elected and not being prepared for the hard business of governing that follows.

23 comments on “The walking dead”

  1. whatever 1

    “the personable Gerry Brownlee”
    wouldn’t be my description

    • bobo 1.1

      If Simon Power was of any political weight he would have been the deputy leader at least by now. From what ive seen of him over there years seems a fairly run of the mill Tory who cant speak much beyond soundbites, I think the problem with National is some of their MPs are appalling in regards to public speaking, showing any intellectual thought apart from the party line, that an average one looks good.

      I think Bill is fairly safe as deputy for now, if he goes National will start infighting.

  2. Zaphod Beeblebrox 2

    If he is doomed it will be a huge setback for the govt. I always thought English was one of the few ministers who actually had a grasp of their portfolio, a sort of counterweight to the Right/ACT leaning loonies.

    Key himself is a very poor public speaker and his commitment to ideology does not seem that strong so he really needs English with his experience and understanding of economics to hold off the right wing attacks that they are not being radical enough.

    I wouldn’t think Joyce is much of solution either in PR terms (witness his ham fisted efforts to justify the Holiday Highway) or his understanding of social issues (again witness his dismissal of the value of PT).

    Don’t know much about Power- he will have to be good to hold off the left and the right and make up for Key’s deficiencies

  3. Rex Widerstrom 3

    My money is still on Simon Power to take English’s place. He’s the only one to provide both the intellectual heft…

    Errrr… we can’t possibly be talking of the one who’s shown anything but an “intellectual” approach to justice issues*, shurely?

    The man’s knees jerk so badly at the mere thought of all those “filthy criminals” I’m surprised he can get his pants on of a morning.

    At first I couldn’t understand how Rodney Hide could have agreed to having The Garrotte prancing around his caucus room waving his little noose. Then I realised it was part of the power-sharing deal: Act were obliged to find someone more reactionary and narrow-minded than Simon Power and Judith Collins in order to make them look reasonable by comparison, and The Garrotte was the only person in NZ with a justice background who fitted the bill.

    * as opposed to Chris Finlayson who, so far at least, has shown he thinks about the issues and is keen to listen to others.

    • Marty G 3.1

      when I say Power has intellectual heft it’s relative to Key. As Einstein would say, everything’s relative 🙂

      Finlayson’s not a contender for a senior role. Although if he were to take justice from Power, that would be welcome.

      I think Power’s reasonably moderate in his heart (in contrast to Collins) but you’re right that he’s been pretty reactionary as minister.

  4. whatever 4

    English is clearly worried not only do we get the two stage “as the pressure mounts’ pay back of his allowances, we also have newsletters from Southland suddenly reappearing, we have the drag the family of to Dipton in the recess and then the rush back from Dipton to Wellington press release when the Somoa thing happened.
    All too little to late
    The pressure will go back on when parliament returns and with the Ag deciding whether or not to have a full inquiry. It will be straight back in the news headlines
    Meanwhile Brownlee, Joyce and Power secretly conspire …
    I would love to see Brownlee as Dep PM he is an arrogant bully and will be seen as one by the public at large.
    Interesting situation the verge of major infightingin the Nats and the year isn’t up yet. Labour must think xmas has come early..

  5. Westminster 5

    I’ve always considered Brownlee to be National’s heavyweight MP. In fact, Super Heavyweight is probably closer to the mark. Seriously though, it’s all idle speculation. O’Sullivan has no more insight into the inner machinations and ambitions of the key players (or should that be the Key players?). Who knows. Time will tell. Thankfully, I reckon we can basically consign to the rubbish pile English’s ambitions as a future PM further than that is basically speculative.

    For my money, Key would be well-advised to keep Mr English in the second job as long as possible. Ever since he’s shot his chances of toppling the sitting PM (whomever that might be), he’s probably the safest person to have as a lieutenant out of all of the caucus members. Why put a credible successor within striking distance of your own job?

    • George.com 5.1

      The issue that I haven’t seen considered is what English will do should he be demoted. We have all speculated on his continuing credibility as MOF versus his need to go on either ethical or legal points.

      English had some pretensions to becoming prime minister in 2002 however a
      disasterous election result saw English rolled by Brash a while after. That
      matter has been thoroughly raked over. English saw the chance to again lead
      the National Party when Brash shat in his nest once too often and had to go.
      The power struggle between Key and English was settled behind closed doors
      with the current power sharing arrangement. Likely however, English had
      hopes of once again leading the party and Prime Ministership. If it hasn’t
      already dawned on him, English now stands little chance of either of those
      in this life time. Essentially for English, May 2009 was as good as it gets.
      That must piss him off a bit as his aspirations won’t be delivered.

      That power share is at the heart of the dilemma for National. Keep English
      on as a lame duck MOF or sack him. If Key replaces him he risks the fragile
      treaty he made with English falling apart. Likely most of the English camp
      would shift over to Key, which is sensible, in any struggle for leadership.
      However Key would be left with a potentially bitter and angry English
      somewhere in his caucus, if not cabinet. A residual rump of English
      supporters would still exist to make things uncomfortable. Brash had to live
      through the sniping from a sidelined Maurice Williamson, Rodney Hide from
      Roger Douglas. English may do as much damage in a demotion as were he to continue as MOF.

  6. Ianmac 6

    Mr Hodgson says that the AG decision to investigate is not the only issue surrounding English. Hodgson says that the questions that he has been posing to the PM about his part in the English thing have not been addressed. And he will continue to ask for them. So even if the AG says no case to answer there is still more to come.

  7. whatever 7

    i just had a look at ipredict to see what the price was on Bill English and his political demise and there is nothing , bugger all not a sausage
    There are however predictions on
    David Shearer to replace Phil Goff as Labour Party leader before 2011
    Annette King to be replaced as Labour deputy leader in 2009
    Paul Holmes to be elected mayor of Auckland in 2010
    I wonder why Mr English doesn’t figure ? maybe the odds are too great

    • QoT 7.1

      That’s what I love about iPredict, the way it so beautifully proves that you can’t observe a thing without affecting it – so the fact that it has no listing for English implies that there’s no chance of it happening, and the fact it has a listing for Shearer toppling Goff probably makes a lot of people think that’s far more likely than it really is.

      Cripes, it probably makes the event more likely just by stating it as a possibility people will put money on…

  8. I read the entrails presented previously, and by Messrs Gower and O’Sullivan as follows, Mr English is doomed soon or later (I think next year), Joyce will be up to speed by then to take over. Mr Key is also on notice for 2014, with Mr Joyce now (at 46) the coming replacement for Mr Key. Mr Power is currently left in the wake. If this is right, the two things that might upset things are the electorate, and those members of National’s caucus who may take this succession amiss. My guess is that sooner or later, the jockeying will become very obvious.

    It is also fairly clear that Ms O’Sullivan speaks for a particular section (fraction?) of Capital, which wants to see greater energy in the reform process.

  9. burt 9

    Marty G, you are channeling the whale but it looks like some weird time delay and cross message occurred so I fixed that up

    The more the government is wracked by splits and divisions and paralysed by a lame duck Deputy and a PM more concerned with preening in front of the cameras than anything else, the less of the Right’sLeft’s agenda will be progressed (especially as a more united and effective Left Right fights it at every turn) and the more likely victory in 2011 2008 becomes.

    For the Right Left, this debacle of a government should be a salutary lesson in the dangers of treating politics as nothing more than a PR exercise in getting elected and not being prepared for the hard business of governing that follows.

    • Lanthanide 9.1

      Um, how was Cullen a lame duck, and how did Helen preen in front of the cameras?

      You know, its all very well and “clever” to post something like that, as long as it actually makes sense…

  10. Deemac 10

    not that he’s got much of a track record as a pundit, Bob Jones thinks this will be a one-term National govt: http://bit.ly/CwujP
    His derision for Key is not news, I suspect he has a sneaking admiration for Peters…

  11. toad 11

    The problem for Steven Joyce, who is English’s logical successor as Minister of Finance, is that Joyce seems to be engaging in a rather large chunk of pork barrel politics.

    The Puhoi-Wellsford motorway is a loser on any economic cost-benefit analysis you might do. But Joyce is pushing it through because it will serve his own political aspirations.

  12. SPC 12

    With neither claiming the housing allowance in Wellington, Bill and John are now feared by other MP’s receiving the allowance.

    So Goff moved pre-emptively to supports a bi-partisan move towards a CGT (English giving up the allowance was predictable).

    And some on the right can accept the attack on Bill because they know Goff still owns two homes and gets the allowance still (selling the second home – PM’s house or bust in 2011 and no CGT liability while living there and owning his own electorate home surely) – thus undermining his credibility on a CGT.

    Goff needs to clean his own nest and take his leadership to the next level on this one. He should join English in forgoing his allowance (either continue to live in a house he owns or rent at his own cost – he has received the allowance enough years to buy the second home and own it mortgage free has he not).

    • Marty G 12.1

      Goff isn’t resident in Wellington. English is. get the difference?

      the out of town allowances are for mps and ministers who don’t live in wellington to compensate them for the cost of having to find somewhere to stay when they’re in town for work – the fact they may own an investment property is not relevant.

      • SPC 12.1.1

        The allowance is because non Wellington MP’s need to afford a second house to work as an MP. Frankly the existing criteria that the wife and family remain back in the electorate is wrong. Why should not other MP’s who have their families in Wellington get it too?

        As for Goff he probably owns the Wellington house mortgage free because he is a long time MP who has been paid the “$24,000” over many years. Under the rules he would only qualify for an allowance based on the amount of mortgage he actually paid – zero or close as. So he rents out the house he owns to rent another house and qualify for the full allowance (and pockets the full rent from the other).

        It may be within the rules, but only because the rules suck. Goff and others so involved should stop claiming the allowance.

  13. gomango 13


    Actually there is an “English to go” contract on ipredict. the Second Minister to depart in 2000 is obviously quite a good proxy. If English is going to go – and I think you are dreaming if you think he will – then this contract will pay out at $1. Its currently trading at 0.16. I’m hazy on the time line, but can I assume this became a public issue around 3 weeks ago? Since then this contract is at best unchanged, more likely down about 10%, so the betting money isnt on a 2009 departure for Bill.

    Bear in mind this contract actually overestimates the probability of English departing as it includes also any other minister, ie every one from Rodney to Pita and all those in between.

    Personally I think english has been taking the piss, just a different manifestation of what pretty much every MP on all sides of the house is doing/has done for decades. But he has saved himself by taking the high ground after years of holding the low ground. It’s enough, there is no black and white smoking gun that will capture public outrage. The AG report won’t even come close to hanging him out.

    • burt 13.1

      History tells us that MPs have nothing to fear from damming reports by the AG. What would the AG know about the ways of parliament – pffft – the law makers are above that sort of nonsense and they know what the laws were intended to say better than anyone. Move on.

  14. Tanya 15

    Key is facile and shallow, he is certainly preening for the cameras, seems fixated on his new-found stardom, he is a supposed to be a Statesman, not a rock star for crying out loud!

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