Southern say: Resignations, retirements in crazy week

New National Party leader Judith Collins and Michael Woodhouse were all smiles before Tuesday’s...
New National Party leader Judith Collins and Michael Woodhouse were all smiles before Tuesday’s caucus meeting to determine the new party leadership on Tuesday night. PHOTO: FACEBOOK
The political merry go round continued to speed out of control this week, flinging another southern MP to the side in the process.

Back in the dim dark ages of July 1, shortly after National leader Todd Muller had quizzed the Prime Minister, his party’s health spokesman Michael Woodhouse asked Parliamentary Question number 5 to Health Minister David Clark.

None of those men have those jobs any more, and they are far from alone, with resignations and retirements being flung around like confetti.

The southern political pandemic which has struck down Mr Woodhouse, Dr Clark, Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker and — earlier and for entirely different reasons — Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran has spread northwards, with a rash of resignations in National’s ranks following Judith Collins sudden and unforeseen ascension to the peak of her party.

Mr Woodhouse’s fall from his carousel horse was inevitable, but it was also gently cushioned.

In Ms Collins recently released book Pull No Punches she devotes considerable space to how she was fired by then Prime Minister John Key for various scandals which, when subsequently investigated, appeared to offer more smoke than heat.

Her resentment at being asked to "take one for the team" remains palpable, and she has taken a different path in dealing with Mr Woodhouse’s situation.

Like Mr Walker, Mr Woodhouse was the recipient of Covid-19 patient details from former National party president Michelle Boag.

Unlike Mr Walker he did not pass his documents on to anyone else; Mr Woodhouse’s sins as Ms Collins saw it, were in not dissuading Ms Boag from sending him any more documents of similar ilk, and not advising Dr Clark of the material which had made its way into his hands.

Ms Collins, in her forthright, no-nonsense manner, told journalists on Wednesday that Mr Woodhouse accepted her view that he had made a mistake, and that absolutely no-one else in her caucus would be making a similar one.

This was an issue she had to move quickly on: Mr Woodhouse’s future was almost the first question she was asked in her first press conference as National leader.

Her statement that she was reviewing the situation offered exactly no hope whatsoever that Mr Woodhouse — who until his recent missteps with dodgy documents and undocumented homeless people was one of National’s strongest and surest performers — would still be health spokesman in 24 hours’ time.

Ms Collins and Mr Woodhouse were photographed in triumphant embrace soon after the leadership vote, but the atmosphere would have been less convivial when the two met the next day.

Ms Collins said after that meeting that she rated Mr Woodhouse highly.

With MPs leaping overboard at a rapid rate she needs to keep as many senior MPs on the ship as possible to try and preserve National’s campaign rhetoric of having the strongest crew of MPs.

One sizeable new portfolio (Regional Development) and one smaller one (Pike River Re-entry), along with his previous roles as associate finance and shadow deputy leader of the House represented enough of a change to be seen as a demotion, but it was far from a banishment.

Jacqui Dean. Photo: ODT files
Jacqui Dean. Photo: ODT files
Mr Woodhouse’s final party ranking of 12 would have been elevated a spot or two by the Thursday post-Muller retirements of his strongest supporters, senior MPs Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams, but sees him remain on the front bench.

Crucially for Mr Woodhouse’s future, his new ranking suggests he can make it back to Parliament should Ms Collins shore up enough of National’s withering party vote through her stubborn determination and very different political approach.

Nine of the 11 MPs ranked above him should win electorate seats, so unless National’s vote craters Mr Woodhouse should be in an electable place on his party’s list.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean also has every reason to be pleased with the new caucus line-up; at 14 she remains high in the party rankings.

Retention of her coveted role in conservation was what Mrs Dean wanted, but the substantial responsibility of housing and urban development is a vote of confidence that she can play a greater role in National’s attack on the Government.

With Ms Collins at the helm this will be a very different election campaign, pitching kindness against a more muscular approach.

With little time to spare, do not expect anything fancy or nuanced from Ms Collins; National will roll out simple slogans about jobs, law and order, housing, tax and infrastructure, claiming to be the party best placed to address the fundamental needs of New Zealanders in a Covid-19 landscape.

Even Jeffrey Archer could not have dreamed up the plot twists this election has provided so far, and there will no doubt be plenty more dramas to come before September 19.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

 

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