Has Hooton fallen off the wagon…again?

Matthew Hooton has a mad rant about National’s leadership woes in the NBR.

There is a problem though with his mad rant…there aren’t any leadership woes. Nor is there a coup, or a plan to replace John Key. It seems Matthew Hooton has interviewed his keyboard, or more likely dictated his fantasy to an intern.

The rumour goes that Mr Key, like his idol Richie McCaw, will want to go out on a high and on his own terms.  His knighthood depends on him handing over to a National prime minister rather than losing an election to Labour.  And while his poll numbers are still strong, he now consistently rates below the National Party, with about a quarter of National voters naming someone else as their preferred prime minister.  For the first time, a campaign based solely on “Team Key” would drag National down.  The next election campaign will need to be less focused on the leader, which Mr Key may not enjoy.

For his part, Mr Joyce backs himself as a great communicator, especially on radio but also on TV.  He is sure he could do the retail aspects of the prime ministership – clowning around on commercial radio and so forth – as well as Mr Key.  He is a more enthusiastic bureaucratic manager than the incumbent.

Hooton then talks up a reshuffle of cabinet to assist Joyce.

Reshuffling the cabinet to help his friend is one thing; Mr Key actually managing to hand over the prime ministership to Mr Joyce is quite another, requiring, as it does, the acquiescence of the National Party caucus.

However, unlike the Labour Party’s overly complex rules, National’s don’t prescribe a process for changing the leadership.  The caucus can do whatever it likes, whenever it likes.  The prime ministership can be changed in a few minutes by acclamation if the right conditions can be engineered. The National Party board, also required to endorse the decision, was structured to be a mere instrument of the leadership following Mr Joyce’s 2003 review of the party’s rules.

The reason Mr Key and Mr Joyce are probably right to back themselves to ram through a leadership change is that the National Party caucus has been trained to be docile these last seven years.  Caucus meetings are shorter than ever and are dominated by briefings by Messrs Key and Joyce.  MPs are not encouraged to ask questions or even speak.

Whilst it is true that caucus has become a joke, with bobblehead tendencies when it comes to a vote for leader it won’t be up to John Key to decide who replaces him, nor will it be possible.

If it comes to the point where National needs a new leader that will mean the stocks of the current leader are so low that anything he says will be irrelevant. Caucus chooses the leader and coronations never work out, ever.

Whereas Sir Robert Muldoon had the likes of Ruth Richardson, David Lange had Jim Anderton, Jim Bolger had the Brat Pack and even Helen Clark a few crusty old conservatives, it is unlikely there is now anyone in the National caucus with the wherewithal to speak up even in the extraordinary situation where the prime ministership was being changed suddenly before their very eyes.

Especially were Messrs Key and Joyce to wait for a week when Mr Joyce’s rival Paula Bennett was out of the country, they would have a good chance of presenting a handover as a fait accompli.

It still seems improbable.  But, then again, would any National backbencher have the courage and integrity to get up and say no?

I know of at least three backbenchers who would be up for that fight. But this is all flights of fancy from Hooton.

There isn’t any such rumblings, nor any movements…if there was I’d know because I’d be right in the middle of it all.

In any case Steve Joyce told Ruth Dyson (who has busily told anyone who would listen) that he would never run for leader as people don’t like him. And he is right. Joyce has maintained an arrogant aloofness towards backbench MPs. Having never been one he doesn’t understand the value of having a visiting minister in the electorate, so he has never bothered cultivating support. Likewise any talk about Paula Bennett being leader. She has too many skeletons in her closet, and those rather loud talking Labour researchers who boast of their conquests might prove troublesome. The way she treats staff with her unreasonable behaviour will also bite her on her ass.

So all in all this is just a fantasy from Hooton, and not a very accurate one. He could have saved several hundred words by simply writing “I hate Steve Joyce”.




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