Longing to be No 2

In any early childhood centre around the country we doubt children are queueing up to proclaim they want to be deputy prime minister when they grow up.

But things are different in the great sandpit of politics.

At least three grown-ups were vying for the job in the new government. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who has had two previous stints in the role, has been tight-lipped about his prospects which has at least spared us any confusing references to long pants and who might be wearing them.

In the meantime, one of the other contenders, Act New Zealand leader David Seymour, has been open about his aspirations, with his argument along the lines of "my party’s bigger than yours, Winston, na, na, na, na, na".

While we wait for an outcome, he and prime minister-in-waiting National leader Christopher Luxon, have been engaging in one-upmanship over Weet-bix consumption.

The other supposed contender, National’s deputy leader Nicola Willis (who has been wearing full length trousers, incidentally) has said she is out and left the boys to the squabbling.

It all looks pretty silly from the outside and we wonder how much the public cares about it.

Christopher Luxon’s description of the job as largely a ceremonial one might have been a surprise to some of those who have held the position previously.

Former Labour prime minister Helen Clark said her deputy Sir Michael Cullen once said of the role: "I am the snow on which Helen’s skis glide".

ACT leader David Seymour (left) and NZ First's Winston Peters. Photo: NZ Herald
ACT leader David Seymour (left) and NZ First's Winston Peters. Photo: NZ Herald
She said deputies support the leader and support leaders to do well.

"That takes a lot of character."

There may be less gliding and more hitting rocks in instances where the deputy is from another party with priorities which may not always align with the PM’s.

In Mr Peters’ first deputy prime ministership to Jim Bolger and then Dame Jenny Shipley, the relationship broke down before the government’s term was up.

His relationship with Dame Jacinda Ardern lasted the distance but since then both Labour and New Zealand First have had no enthusiasm for pairing up again.

The risk for the leader of a minor party with a high profile in a government is that their party gets punished in the polls because they are seen as part of the problem when the tide turns against the major party.

Conversely, they can run the risk of being seen as irrelevant when the leading party is popular, as happened to New Zealand First in 2020.

Since the office of deputy prime minister was formally introduced in 1949, 20 people have served in the role, with Mr Peters and Sir Jack Marshall undertaking it twice.

Anyone thinking it is a sure fire way to get to the top job might want to reconsider.

Only seven of them did so: Sir Keith Holyoake, Sir Jack, Hugh Watt (briefly after Norman Kirk’s death), Sir Robert Muldoon, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Miss Clark, and Sir Bill English.

And another thing

The petition seeking the removal of Stephen Parry from the position as interim chief executive of the Gore District Council did not get far at this week’s council meeting.

Stephen Parry
Stephen Parry
Councillors exercised their right to refuse a petitioner the chance to address them, on the grounds it was an employment matter.

Most then voted not to receive the petition.

Mr Parry had resigned and was due to leave at the end of last month but was re-employed in an interim capacity after the unexpected departure of his deputy.

The brief discussion before the vote gave an indication of the pressure councillors have been under.

Cr Paul McPhail told the meeting he had never "witnessed a more vindictive, revengeful, unrelenting bitter campaign".

Mr Bell assured those at the meeting there was stability and that he and Mr Parry had a good arrangement in place while the recruiting process for a new chief executive proceeded.

As we have indicated before, petitioners need to reflect on whether continued agitating about Mr Parry is a winning recruitment strategy.