Key’s Cabinet Reshuffle
John Key today has unveiled several changes in and outside his cabinet that may provide some insight into National’s early election year machinations.
Probably the most notable change is that Peter Dunne has been welcomed back into the fold. Since his resignation as a Minister several months ago, after an inquiry into the leaking of sensitive government material was unable to prove that he was not the source, Dunne has been sort of hopelessly flopping around Parliament. However, the veteran politician who refused to let go is back, proudly wielding the weighty Internal Affairs, Associate Health and Associate Conservation portfolios (outside Cabinet, of course). The previous Internal Affairs Minister, Chris Tremain, has been dropped from Cabinet, presumably because he is retiring from Parliament soon and isn’t much use to anyone anymore.
The restoration of Peter Dunne can be seen as early election year maneuvering by the National Party. I speculate that this is a ‘cup of tea’ move on Key’s part, signalling that he thinks he still needs United Future to form a government. Dunne’s new portfolios will restore his prestige slightly, ensuring that during the campaign he will be able to tell his electorate that he is still relevant and still doing things for them, therefore boosting his credibility as a candidate. The choice of Internal Affairs seems very deliberate, giving Dunne a portfolio with which he can achieve this, but one in which he (hopefully) won’t cause Key too much trouble.
The second item of interest is the Local Government portfolio, which has been given to Paula Bennett. There could be very little to read from this. Bennett is a good politician who has managed to get through some potentially controversial welfare reforms with little fuss, and is a strong National figure, while seemingly having little interest in the leadership. The Local Government portfolio, which is respectable but not hugely demanding, could be seen as a fitting reward for someone such as her. However, Paula Bennett is running for the new Upper Harbour seat in Auckland, and is met by potentially worrying opposition in the Conservative’s Christine Rankin. It could be that the Local Government Portfolio has been given to her to get an edge in the campaign for the seat. After all, North Shore Aucklanders with their berms and their bridges and their supercity do focus on local government a fair amount, especially after the recent elections.
Thirdly, Sam Lotu-Iiga has become a new minister outside Cabinet, and has been given the Pacific Island affairs and Associate Local Government portfolios. Lotu-Iiga is the MP for Maungakiekie, a seat which has had some fairly important boundary changes that mean he could be facing a strong challenge from Labour’s Carol Beaumont this year. Maungakiekie has a strong Maori, Asian and Pacific Island population, and so it does not seem like a mere coincidence that Lotu-Iiga has been appointed to a position that would give him a chance to get out and talk to the many Pacific Islanders in the electorate. This again suggests that Key and National have begun to identify and target some key battleground seats for the election.
Other changes include Michael Woodhouse being brought into Cabinet, and Todd McLay being given associate Tourism, but neither of these actions seem to bear any significance. However, as stated above, the general theme of the reshuffle seems to show that the National Party are clicking into gear. It could be a very wise move for them to shore up their support in seats that are in no way certain just yet, and the nod to Peter Dunne shows that John Key does not feel too safe with the Conservatives as his coalition partner just yet.
Will National operate in similar ways throughout election year? Key cannot risk another teapot tape fiasco, and so it could pay to closely monitor the workings and changes in the government as we draw ever closer to the election.