The Press editorial:
So what are the potential threats to Key’s hopes for a fourth term? Unless something goes drastically wrong between now and the second half of next year, it looks unlikely the Labour Party under Andrew Little will be in a position to pull together the next government.
They need to persuade 200,000 more NZers to vote Labour to be in with a chance.
In terms of successors to Key being actively groomed or quietly blossoming within the National Party’s caucus, there will be some definite contenders post-2017. But In terms of challengers who might actively challenge his leadership before that election or after, that is harder to foresee.
Near impossible to imagine.
If Key does lead National to its fourth successive victory, it will then become a question of when he might stand aside. Would it be within a few months of the election or as late as possible? That last strategy runs the risk of locking a leader into the next election campaign and yet another possible term as prime minister. Voters will need to know how far into that fourth term he might stay as leader.
He can’t say in advance because you become lame duck, but my pick would be during the latter half of the 2nd year, so after around 11 years in the job.
Who might be Key’s possible successor? It depends who you listen to, but the personable, fifth-ranked Paula Bennett is a rising star of some charisma. Now minister of climate change issues as well as social housing and state services, she is also associate minister of finance, a sign, some say, that she is being groomed by Key.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is a steady pair of hands but would be a case of “been there, done that”. Steven Joyce has vast experience and is in the same mould as a Bill Birch or Michael Cullen, but does not have the populist touch needed. Neither does Gerry Brownlee.
Then there’s Judith Collins – she has her supporters in caucus but may be a bit too divisive. Jonathan Coleman and Simon Bridges are possible leaders of the future, and so is Amy Adams, but she is currently a long shot.
I should point out Bill English has said he will never seek the leadership again.
That Key says he realises he is not indispensable appears an encouraging sign of self-awareness, a trait some other leaders have struggled to master. Short of a major change in fortunes, he could well still be prime minister in two or three years’ time.
Key has actively worked to promote successors, unlike some of his predecessors.