All over in 75 hours

So 75 hours after John Key announced his resignation, National has effectively selected a new leader and Prime Minister. Hard to imagine a better outcome politically as the longer the leadership of a party (and country) is unsettled, the more disruptive it can be.

It was slightly surreal the way it was resolved. Mainly for my own interest I started counting up the number of MPs who had publicly pledged for English, and it was around a dozen. So I blogged it as a useful resource for others. Then over the morning more and more MPs made public statements on Facebook and Twitter and suddenly it became apparent that English may get a majority of caucus publicly pledged to him in advance of the actual vote on Monday. And I was following this from the women’s ward of Wellington Hospital (nothing serious, just a follow up) where I was holed up for six hours!

This is not how it has been done in the past. In the past few MPs publicly declare whom they are backing, and you find out in caucus whether the private pledges of support eventuate. But in the age of social media, we had a running count occurring here and on Twitter, and within seconds of the 30th MP declaring for English, it was judged to be all over.

As the English count got up into the 20s, I was amused to have a couple of MPs contact me to point out I had overlooked their public declarations, so they got added to the list and it started to look more and more likely English would get there during the afternoon.

Once he hit 30, Collins and then Coleman conceded. I understand Jonathan said something along the lines of he didn’t just go with the count on Kiwiblog, but verified things with a few phone calls – which was sensible :-).

I think the party is the better for having had Jonathan and Judith stand, rather than a coronation. It allowed the backbench MPs to deliver a message that they do want rejuvenation beyond just the leadership, and also that they want greater consultation and input into major decisions. Both are stances I agree with. If there had been no contest, then those desires would have simmered away on the backbench, rather than be clearly communicated.

I think English won because at the end of the day the major foundation of the Government’s success has been as very competent managers or shepherds of the economy. Being good economic managers is not enough to win the support of the country, but it is a pre-condition. Without that, the other stuff won’t get a look in. English had the established successful record in this area and that gave him the advantage.

English now has a tough job – he has to deliver some rejuvenation to the Cabinet, but not so much to destabilise the Government. But it does require more than simply Bill takes John’s job, Steven takes Bill’s job and Steven’s portfolios get farmed out.

Key things to look out for are:

  • Who gets elected Deputy Prime Minister
  • How many backbenchers get promoted to the ministry
  • Which lower ranked Ministers get moved up to the front bench
  • If English continues with the “kitchen” Cabinet or strategy group, who makes that up
  • Which Minister/s picks up Economic Development and Tertiary Education

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