Winning a third term for National – Part II

In Part I, I talked about the need for ongoing policy reform, and for the Government not just to aspire to be better administrators than Labour, but also driving a better policy agenda. If you try to compete just on being better administratoes, then eventually people think why not try that other lot.

In Part II I want to talk about Ministerial rejuvenation. After first got elected in 2008, I pondered what Labour did wrong in their latter years, and what National may need to do to get a third term and maybe even the holy grail of a 4th term.

One of Clark’s mistakes was she left ministerial rejuvenation too late. Halfway through their third term and the Cabinet was still dominated by the same names – Clark, Cullen, Anderton, Goff, Maharey, Mallard, Hodgson, King, Dyson, Dalziel.

I sketched out that with a ministry of around 24 (National) Ministers one should be looking at rejuvenation of around 25% at regular intervals. The first 25% by the beginning of the second term, the second 25% by the end of the second term, and a third 25% around halfway through the third term – and in that third tranche you may even have a leadership succession.

It is important to stress that when one talks about ministerial rejuvenation, this is not saying that incumbent Ministers are performing badly, and their successors will be better than them. In fact new Ministers often do struggle initially compared to more experienced Ministers – one reason why you do rejuvenation gradually. But have no doubt about it – New Zealanders will not generally keep voting for the same line up election after election. The media and your opponents paint you as ired and out of ideas, and labels do stick. Plus it is correct that new Ministers will sometimes bring new ideas and energy to a portfolio.

Now to date, the Key Government is pretty much on schedule, in terms of what I see as the ideal pace of rejuvenation. Seven of the 24 Ministers are new, as in not there at the beginning of the 49th Parliament – they are Hekia Parata, Nathan Guy, Craig Foss, Amy Adams, Chris Tremain, Jo Goodhew and Chester Borrows.

But I do believe to enhance National’s chances of a third term, there will need to be a reshuffle before the 2014 election. Towards the end of 2013 some of those who have been Ministers since 2008 should consider following in the foot stops of Simon Power and Wayne Mapp and getting out while on top. Their party will thank them for it, even though they personally could be quite capable of continuing on. Ideally they should even be prepared to spend their final 12 months in Parliament on the backbenches, so that new Ministers can come in before the election.

It may be tempting to think hey let’s wait until after the election, and then do a reshufffle. The problem is there is no guarantee you will get that third term.

If National can go into the 2014 election with around half its Ministry being new faces (as in not original 2008 Ministers), then its chances of winning are enhanced. Of course you need more than just ministerial rejuvenation, but it is a key component of it.

The reasons I raise the issue early, is because the best rejuvenation is that done voluntarily. The PM needs to be very clear to Ministers that a warrant today does not mean they are automatically going to be Ministers if there is a third term, or even for all of this term.

Five years as a Minister is a lot better than most MPs achieve. Stepping down after five years or so should not be seen as a bad thing, but as Simon Power showed us – getting out on top.

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