After Key. Then what?

When the media regularly speculate about what is to happen after you’re gone, it is an indicator that you are in the autumn of your political career.   Audrey Young assists the process along.

The ponytail saga might have confirmed Mr Key’s infallibility to his hero-worshippers, but it has made talk of his succession a little more relevant.

As was evident in his biography, John Key: Portrait of a Prime Minister, his threshold for tolerating failure is low.

In 2012, after a difficult but not disastrous year, he talked to wife Bronagh about whether he was still committed to remaining in the job.

And she was stronger than him about staying on and not be seen to be ”running away”, as he put it.

He has said he will stand again in 2017 because that is what leaders have to say until they change their minds.

But nobody would be shocked if Mr Key changed his mind if his popularity waned, given that his popularity sustains his political drive.

If it happened, it would not happen soon because he would want to recover his respect rather than slink away.

There is no suggestion of a leadership challenge.

But Mr Key is losing his Midas Touch: he declared that Winston Peters had ”zero” chance of taking the Northland seat just weeks before he took it; he is leading the charge for a change in flag which is increasingly running against the current, according to the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey.

And the ponytail incidents have relegated him to the ranks of the emperor with no clothes in a caucus which hero-worshipped him.

These are all results of personal failings, vanities and arrogance.

The Cabinet knows that any one of them would have almost certainly have been sacked by now if complaints about ponytail pulling had emerged about them.

Paula Bennett has been groomed by Mr Key, deputy leader Bill English and Mr Joyce for greater responsibility and would be a leadership contender, as would Simon Bridges. Amy Adams and Jonathan Coleman could be anyone’s deputy.

Chris Bishop and Todd Muller are the most impressive of the current intake and by 2020 could have worked their way into a contention, at least for senior roles if not deputy.

It is difficult to see Mr English or Mr Joyce getting any satisfaction from leadership in Opposition.

Their only path to leadership would be if Mr Key decided to step down during this term.

And while Mr Joyce once had the halo of being the chosen one, the balance of power has changed.

If Mr English wanted it, he would almost certainly get it.

It is a long way from his disastrous experience as leader shortly before and after the 2002 election.

He has managed the economy almost back to surplus and effected a profound change in the way governments from this one and future ones will look at public services.

He has made fewer mistakes than Mr Joyce, earned more respect and cultivated more supporters in the party.

Ms Bennett would be his deputy and Mr Joyce his finance minister.

Were that combination to lead National into the next election and fail, then Ms Bennett, Mr Bridges and Ms Collins would slug it out for the leadership.

It continues to amaze me how little political journalists understand of the National Party’s internal leadership processes.

They continue to confuse the apparent outward popularity of an MP with the public as a critical factor.

Not so.

But that aside, the talk about “after Key” has started.   The puckering up part is if “after Key” is in government or in opposition.


– NZ Herald

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