And Miss Clark certainly demands respect. Until well into her final term, I was expecting her to win a fourth election. If there is a prime minister in recent history who could have pulled it off, it was she.
There will be all sorts of tipping points and missteps diagnosed with the benefit of hindsight. But right at the outset of the Key administration I would like to highlight an issue of political chemistry that was to my mind insidiously corrosive for Labour.
Very simply, it was the most partisan government since Sir Robert Muldoon’s. And that partisan edge became very wearing.
This is something that has been under-reported.
Miss Clark’s political dna was not predisposed to reaching out any further than the minimum required by MMP’s arithmetic.
Upton suggests four things:
Make it an explicit policy that appointments to the boards of Crown-owned entities will be made strictly on merit. By definition, there will be Labour-leaning appointees who should continue to serve. But it would be entirely reasonable to ask all appointees to be prepared to offer their resignations so that reappointments can be the subject of proper scrutiny. That some of Miss Clark’s egregiously political appointments followed on a long tradition of such appointments by previous National administrations doesn’t enslave Mr Key to that tradition. He could change the game.
I find it incredible Mike Williams has not resigned all his boards yet. How can he serve John Key’s Government when he tried to dig up dirt linking John Key to a massive fraud scandal?
Announce that, from here on, the award of honours will be left in the hands of the governor-general. There can be no harm in our head of state (with some appropriate wise advisory committee) honouring worthy citizens without the party political advice of the government of the day.
Or maybe as a compromise have the very top honours like Order of New Zealand reserved for the Governor-General to decide. However as the PM appoints the Governor-General, this may just result in more partisan appointments as Governor-General.
Decide from day one that there is no need to make every Government press release a partisan declaration. Miss Clark’s media machine turned every announcement into a triumph for “the Labour-led Government”. It was tacky and dreary.
Mr Key should make it clear from the outset that he expects public servants to provide free and frank advice that his Government will be happy to accept or reject as it sees fit. This is higher risk because the Official Information Act provides officials with an opportunity to game ministers by offering them explosive material that will swiftly find its way into the public domain. There is no easy answer here, but trust and candour can go a long way. I have reached the view that many policies are best developed in full view, with papers being placed on a ministry’s website before decisions are taken.
I would have all Cabinet papers go automatically on the web after six months.
Other things that would be good for the new Government to do:
- Not set up sham inquiries designed to find no wrong doing.
- Actually try and provide answers in the House that have some connection to the question asked
- Not delay OIA requests for months on end