So the first fatality of Senor Key’s dreaded pre-election cabinet reshuffle has taken place and surprise, (genuine) surprise its Hekia Parata.
Not because Parata was a stellar performer (her term as education minister was fractious in the least and highly combative at worst with a trail of negatives, blunders and outright stupidity and not a lot of positives being left behind) but because of all the other dead wood currently drifting idly in the cabinet swamp.
In taking odds for the favorite in the National cabinets dismissal derby, Parata was not the odds on choice, nor was Nick Smith, despite calls for his head from Labour; but woefully incompetent nags like Sam Lotu-Liga (who had Let the Serco Private Prison/Fight Club Scandal torpedo the governments idea that a privately run prison was a good idea), Ann Tolley (previous Minister for Education as well as Corrections Minister and thereby having sown fertile ground for both Parata and Lotu-Liga reap) or Paula Bennett (for being the willing handmaiden to homelessness and poverty in New Zealand instead of doing what her portfolio actually specified (Social development and State Housing).
But Parata is not going gracefully and our dear leaders statement that her leaving was due to her husband’s health was rapidly denied by Parata herself in what is probably her first (and most certainly her last) stand against the PM (Key’s tolerance for insubordination is not likely to be high).
And it here where John Keys Furherprinzip (leader principle) shows its problems. Key has surrounded himself with ambitious go getters like himself but does like to change things up from time to time in cabinet by switching out non-performers but he also likes to keep his enemies close and competing among themselves because how else do you prevent them from scheming or causing trouble?
Judith Collins, Jerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennet and Nick Smith are all well past their use by dates but remain by virtue of their ability to have support in their electorate and their ability to spatter Key with muck if left unattended. They can’t all be sent off to diplomatic postings to keep them out of trouble, like Murray McCully, so Key has to keep them close and load them up with work (all have multiple portfolios as Ministers) so they don’t have time to plot and scheme against him.
Even venerable Bill English is starting to look like a man ghost walking through history when he starts to utter waffle about there being no problems with homelessness in Auckland so it might even be time to retire this particular political warhorse also.
So there is plenty to replace but who is going to replace them?
To answer that questions I spent time digging through MP profiles on Nationals website to see if there appeared to be any candidates form the backbenches that could step up for Parata (and others).
Now leaving aside associate education minister Nikki Kaye, who has health issues (and possibly to be spared the task until she recovers) there are plenty of candidates in the National chorus back rows who would like their time to shine so which of these bright eyed and busy tailed rip snorters could fill Parata’s shoes?
On background alone there are one or two who have an educational background of one sort or another (Jonathan Young, Todd Barclay, Tim Macindoe, Joanne Hayes, Jono Naylor and Jiyan Yang) along with many others with business, banking and accounting backgrounds (including TWO who previously worked for legal drug pusher Phillip Morris), several with local government experience, a few rare holdovers from Nationals rural past (Lindsay Tich, Barbra Kuiger and Stuart Smith) and finally Jamie-Lee Ross who appears to have no real background or work experience except being an MP and photogenic.
But when you consider that Parata herself had no educational background when she was given the role (having been either working in government or private business) when she was given the role of Education Minister its clear the Key won’t be choosing the next candidate on any such basis as knowing what they are talking about or having any experience working in Education.
No what Key wanted when he set Parata on unsuspecting students, teachers and parents was an attack dog to push though Nationals educational “reforms” in much the same vein as he used bully boy Brownlee, Crusher Collins and Paula “The Beast” Bennett to drive through Nationals reforms in their respective ministries and spaces.
And the problem is with using attack dogs who know little about what they are doing but will willingly do what they are told is that they will bite the hand that feeds them if cut adrift from their food bowl and basket which is what Parata’s outburst to the media was about. She is not going willingly but was pushed as the timing of Keys reshuffle and then her sudden announcement to retire shows, there are few coincidences in politics.
Who will replace Parata is going to have more to do with how hard they bite and how willing they are to suffer the slings and arrows of criticism as well as the will to drive through unpopular policies; and based on the smiling photos and bios on Nationals webpage those kind of skills are less likely to come out of anyone with a genuine background in education and more from the harder end of the business spectrum (perhaps one of the Ex Phillip Morris MPs could front as Education Minister).
So get ready for a new Minister of Education sooner or later but don’t expect anyone who will actually have any idea of what education in NZ needs. Instead, expect some hard nosed economic acolyte with a willingness to follow orders and the skin thick enough to take the inevitable barbs and complaints that Nationals education agenda will create.
And we should expect the same in the rest of cabinet except for one small problem, one teeny tiny problem.
John “purty mouth” Key has run NZ since 2008 on two principles. The first is the traditional Neo-Liberal agenda slightly modified to fit the shifting sands of the NZ political electorate and the second is of ruling this nation of ours as a business enterprise geared for maximum profit for its shareholders (ie those wealthy few who genuinely benefit from its policies) and minimum return for the employees/workers who do the actual work (the rest of the population).
And to do this you don’t need socially conscious educators, morally sound individuals or anyone who will advocate for the fortunes of the general populace. What Key has needed is a team of hard arsed middle managers who will follow orders, kiss his ass (to his face at least) and run through the bosses (him and his backers) orders without question and to do that you need people happy with the psychopathic managerial mind-set and model and willing to make their name as a ball-breaker.
This is why Parata was in cabinet, this is why Collins, Brownlee and all the rest of the hatchet team are in cabinet. Their ability to do the dirty deeds cheaply, without any compunction what so ever and for as long as Key has pits to dig and bodies to haul meant they were useful tools and since the likelihood of Key and National going for a kinder more benevolent government if it gets a fourth term is less than zero there is going to be such work aplenty.
A fourth term National government will either be at the behest of Winston (and who knows what agendas he has planned) and we might see some personal vendettas settled (Peters might want goons like Brownlee out) as part of his coming to play; or we might end up with a situation similar as to what we have now (less likely given the general souring of the mood for Key and Co but you never know) and Key free to keep on managing NZ as some sort of high end tourist resort.
Either way it will still be at the behest and magic of Key to keep the Company afloat (making him the Steve Jobs of NZ politics) and to do so he will need the same cadre of policy thugs and National Brownshirts to do the hard yards while he directs the show from the backroom and keeps himself a few degrees removed from all the ugliness.
Such a situation leaves little room for our ambitious backbencher to move up unless they can unseat one of the current goon squad or a member of said squad becomes such a liability (like Parata) that Key is required to cut them loose (along with all the risks that entails).
In such a situation promotion will be swift and brutal because it’s the equivalent of walking out of army recruit training and straight into the battle with little time to consider what damage is being done to one’s political reputation or career (unless you like being a political thug) or even if they can survive.
At this time I do not know enough about the back benches to predict who will be stepping up and little in the media indicates that anyone else knows either, rumor and speculation aside.
The final part of this analysis, as much as it is, is that hidden yet important factor of actually how Keys goon squad members have actually shielded him from harm over the years, they take the blame and get angry inches written about them in the media and blogs but he remains relatively unscathed.
Going into a fourth term government with a rash of relatively inexperienced members of cabinet has all the hall marks of Key style (or perhaps his advisers) way of avoiding criticism but that requires getting rid of the monsters that are currently in cabinet first (harder to do than it looks) and also has the risks of either backfiring (think Lotu-Liga’s incompetent handling the of Corrections portfolio) or having a green members of the goon squad not able to take the heat that comes with being in the kitchen and flaking out. Both have their risks and either way it leaves Key exposed and dirty, something he will not want.
This means that Key may wish to remove some of the dead wood and I don’t doubt that he will remove some but Parata’s going makes it clear that his choices may be constrained by unseen factors and any attempt to push a goon too much may get push back.