The Bill and Paula combo

So Bill English will become Prime Minister on Monday and Paula Bennett the Deputy Prime Minister. Both quite remarkable outcomes, in different ways.

For Bill, after his huge election loss in 2002, the conventional wisdom was he would never become Prime Minister. He lost the leadership the next year, and then as Key ascended the assumption was that when Key went, the leadership would go to the next generation.

But no one thought Key would go at the height of popularity for National, polling at 50%. The assumption was it would happen after an election loss, or heading into an election National was unlikely to win. Then you would go to the next generation. But Key shocked almost everyone by going out on top, and at a time when the economy was so strong, that Finance Minister English was the logical replacement.

Paula’s ascendancy is remarkable in a different way. When she was a 17 year old teenage Maori solo mother, the thought that one day she would be Deputy Prime Minister would have been thought farcical. Key’s rise to the top was as the son of a solo mother, but Paula’s was as a solo mother herself.

And could you imagine even a couple of decades ago, that a National Party Deputy Prime Minister would be a former teenage solo mother?

So it is now the Bill and Paula show. And while they both got there on the basis of their success as Ministers, the way they balance each other would be hard to engineer a better outcome showing the broad church that National now is. Look at their profiles

  • Bill is a social conservative and Paula a social liberal
  • Bill is/was a South Islander and Paula an Aucklander
  • Bill is male and Paula female
  • Bill is Caucasian and Paula Maori
  • Bill is a bit reserved and Paula rather less so
  • Bill is rural and Paula urban

Now none of this means they will be successful in their new roles. That will come down to how they lead, their decisions on Cabinet, on policy, how they respond to issues, their communication skills, their empathy etc. But it does indicate they have the potential to do a well balanced leadership team.

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