If it is not too soon to reuse the word “adroit”, that is certainly how I would describe Mr Key’s management of the 14-day political transition from Labour to National.
In addition to securing both his right and left flanks, Mr Key has also selected a Cabinet in which old and new (and, in the cases of Stephen Joyce and Paula Bennett, very new) faces are judiciously blended.
Some have characterised the new lineup as reflecting a greater step to the Right than the broader electorate had been given reason to anticipate. I disagree.
Indeed. The ODT called it this, and I can’t work out how they possibly could claim that in good conscience.
To my eyes, Mr Key and Bill English have allowed the National Party to assume the mantle of sweet moderation, and his Cabinet choices reflect not a betrayal, but a very fair reflection, of the public mood.
Had the prime minister been hell-bent upon a lurch to the Right, he would not have exiled Maurice Williamson to that wintry region beyond the Cabinet door. Nor would he have decked out Lockwood Smith in the Speaker’s wig and gown, and left him to the tender mercies of Phil Goff, Michael Cullen and Trevor Mallard.
If the National Party leader had really wanted to come over all right-wing horror-show, he would have allowed the nation’s beneficiaries (instead of the nation’s criminals) to fall into the sharpened talons of Judith Collins. And, with more than a nod to Night of the Living Dead, have appointed Sir Roger Douglas associate minister of finance inside Cabinet.
Trotter is one of the few commentators to note this. Lockie and Maurice (both whom I have immense time for) are definitely amongst the most right wing MPs so not having them in Cabinet, plus shifting Judith from welfare to law & order (where she will shine) and not even giving Douglas an Executive role makes any claims of a shift to the right, nonsense.
Personally I’m all for shifts to the right, but the mood of the electorate at the moment is for evolutionary change, not revolutionary change, and John Key has indeed judged that adroitly.
The confidence and supply agreements with ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party place National not only theoretically, but practically, in the prime real estate of contemporary politics – the Centre.
When the war-horns of ACT start braying for privatisation and massive cuts to public spending, Mr Key can roll his eyes and reiterate his government’s unwillingness to do either. And, when Tariana Turia embarks again on one of her magical mystery tours into the outer reaches of Maori mysticism, he can furrow his brow, pinch his chin and, along with the rest of the Pakeha electorate, nod his head in complete incomprehension.
In practice, the prime minister has cast himself in the role of the voter-who-needs-to-be- convinced. If ACT can make out the case for privatisation; and if it can sell its taxpayer accountability bill, and its “three strikes and you’re out” penal policy to the wider electorate; then Mr Key can democratically respond by translating ACT’s passion into action.
That’s not a bad way of looking at it. Key as the to be convinced voter.
Likewise, if the Maori Party can convince New Zealand that it needs a written constitution, with the Treaty of Waitangi at its heart, then Mr Key and his clever new attorney-general, Chris Finlayson, will be quick to summon the Constitutional Convention.
I’m not sure it will be quick, but Chris will be an excellent guide as we deal with constitutional issues.
But, for my money, Mr Key’s most adroit move has been the appointment of a feisty, 39-year- old, former solo mum with a whakapapa as his minister of social development.
Ms Bennett and the prime minister both pose a formidable symbolic problem for the Labour Party. They speak to an ideologically unmoored working class about the power of aspiration and the possibility of self- improvement.
Yes they do.