When Prime Minister John Key resigned from his job on Monday 05 December 2016, two races began simultaneously. One was for his job and the other was for who would be his deputy. With the Prime Ministership now decided, who will be deputy to Bill English come Monday?
The race for the Prime Ministership was swift, hard played by all, but in the end cleanly fought. Judith Collins, Steven Joyce and Jonathan Coleman were all quickly off the starting block, trying to burnish their credentials as being worthy leaders of New Zealand. In the end though as it was always going to, it came down to a Caucus vote, with Bill English elected after out going Prime Minister John Key lent him his support.
Thus we have a social conservative destined to take over the country on Monday, but what is the outlook of his likely deputy?
With the job of Prime Minister taken by a lad from a tiny Southland town called Dipton, the focus quickly shifted to who would become his deputy. This became a multi horse race, with Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett, and Amy Adams all showing interest in the job. Steven Joyce quickly ruled himself out after being offered the financial portfolio. Justice Minister Amy Adams quickly realized she did not have the numbers.
At the time of this publishing Paula Bennett had 23 Caucus votes, and needing 30 in total to win. Ms Bennett started with the Social Welfare portfolio when first appointed a Minister of the Crown. Her time in that portfolio was marred by controversy. Her initial attempts at pass social welfare legislation met with accusations of undermining support for the disabled and those trying to find work in economically challenging times. During her time in this portfolio despite increases in living costs, there was no serious attempt to increase benefits. Then Ms Bennett was appointed Minister for Climate Change despite having no knowledge of environmental issues. She has failed to challenge moves by Minister for Transport to increase the priority given to roading, and attempts to open up seabed off the Kaikoura coast for oil exploration, despite these issues both having significant carbon based emissions. Despite her lack of knowledge, though Ms Bennett has pledged to make New Zealand uphold its responsibilities under the Paris Agreement.
Her challenger, Minister for Transport Simon Bridges has 9 votes and would need nearly all of the undecided Caucus votes to become Deputy. Based on policy announcements he has made and their stark contrast to measures introduced with regards to other environmental issues, Mr Bridges appears to have little regard for the environment. He broke New Zealand human rights law in April 2013 with the passage under Parliamentary urgency of the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act 2013, which effectively criminalized peaceful protest on the high seas.
It would seem that after 8 years of centrist politics by the premier centre-right party in New Zealand, National is ready to swing back towards its core constituents. After 8 years of pushing Labour to the edge of the abyss and coming dangerously close to succeeding, an impending swing to the right is going to give Andrew Little the breathing space he needs.