Woodhouse back in key role in shrunken caucus

Michael Woodhouse. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Michael Woodhouse. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Given the rollercoaster ride he has been on this year, it is unlikely Dunedin-based National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse will remember 2020 fondly.

National’s annus horribilis has now arrived at a peak for Mr Woodhouse with his elevation to the heights of No4 in the caucus rankings from the trough of No12 he was demoted to just five months back.

The newly minted opposition finance spokesman looked inordinately pleased on Thursday as Judith Collins unveiled him and Port Waikato MP Andrew Bayly as National’s economics team ... and so Mr Woodhouse should have, given on July 15 he had had to maintain a fixed grimace as Ms Collins explained to reporters that she had demoted him for an error of judgement.

That slip — not telling party leadership that he had been sent the same confidential Covid-19 information that his colleague Hamish Walker had — was a sin of omission; Mr Woodhouse did not make the politically fatal mistake of actually using what he had been sent.

Ms Collins has also been swift to pass over Mr Woodhouse’s Achilles heel, the homeless man who or may not have spent time enjoying managed isolation, as no longer relevant.

Government MPs will insist upon Mr X’s relevance for the rest of Mr Woodhouse’s time in Parliament, but Ms Collins has judged voters have moved on from that issue.

In truth, she had little choice but to move on herself.

Following National’s October 17 massacre, experienced and capable MPs for crucial portfolios are in short supply.

A former accountant and chief executive, Mr Woodhouse has the skills for the role and in the last Parliament was one of National’s strongest performers in the House; without the Covid-19 calamities he may well have got to this position on merit anyway.

While it is likely that Mr Bayly, as No3 in the rankings, will get first crack at Finance Minister Grant Robertson in parliamentary debates, Mr Woodhouse will not be far behind, and Labour will not have forgotten his forensic questioning of Dunedin MP David Clark when both were responsible for health.

However, opportunities for Mr Woodhouse to tackle Mr Robertson may be few and far between: the dramatic drop in National’s number of MPs brings with it a corresponding fall in the number of questions it gets to ask the Government out of the 12 allocated for each question time.

Mr Woodhouse and his colleagues will have to be very careful with their phrasing this term, so as not to allow ministers to get away with single-word answers.

A touch overshadowed by Mr Woodhouse’s elevation to finance — but a sure sign of Ms Collins’ confidence in her Dunedin MP — was his also picking up transport, a portfolio which National has always attached much importance to.

It had been expected that an Auckland MP would receive that role, given that city’s roads and railways are an eternal issue in the portfolio.

However, with only one other Aucklander apart from Ms Collins herself, Melissa Lee, in National’s new top 10, seniority held sway over geography.

Ms Collins has been careful to place new Botany MP Christopher Luxon under Mr Woodhouse’s wing as one of two associates, and no doubt the former Air New Zealand executive will have something to offer there.

She has also tried to create teams of MPs to work together, partly to stifle dissent but also to try to use the diminished office staff and leader’s office staff more efficiently.

Whether that succeeds in quelling questions about Ms Collins’ security as leader depends on National MPs’ self-discipline, a quality they should have new respect for after their ballot box drubbing.

Mr Woodhouse was not the only notable southern shift in the reshuffle; Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean lost the housing portfolio and dropped down the rankings.

That shift was necessitated by National opting to nominate Mrs Dean as assistant Speaker — a front bencher cannot go from attack dog at 2pm to neutral arbiter of standing orders 90 minutes later.

That designation was a slight surprise, although Mrs Dean does have ample chairwomanship experience both in local government and at select committee.

Her retired colleague Anne Tolley was good in the role during the last term and will be the model Mrs Dean aspires to when she assumes the role.

Ms Collins was again constrained by her caucus in this choice.

It needs to be an experienced MP and a team player, and the two most seasoned MPs she has, Gerry Brownlee and — most especially — Nick Smith, have been non-stop skirmishing with Speaker Trevor Mallard for three years.

Mrs Dean is not tarred with that brush and has the sittings under her belt; had she not wanted the job it is quite possible that she would have followed in the footsteps of Speakers past and been reluctantly pushed into it.

Most important to Mrs Dean was keeping the conservation role she has always wanted, and agreement to that no doubt made her one-on-one meeting with Ms Collins to discuss her future a great deal easier.

New Southland MP Joseph Mooney was awarded the not inconsiderable portfolio of Treaty negotiations, to go with associate roles in defence and tourism, jobs which should give a first-termer a good workout.

Fellow rookie Invercargill’s Penny Simmonds also will not be grumbling with the allocation of tertiary education, associate agriculture and associate disability issues.

Whether the line-up reflects National’s ‘‘wealth of talent and experience’’ is a moot point, but given the hand Ms Collins was dealt she appears to have played it as well as she could.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

Comments

I guess for me the name Woodhouse resonates with toilet seats and this is not my sick mind talking but coming direct from Woodhouse himself. This is the man responsible for seriously and deliberately ridiculing a hard working Dunedin Labour MP. Mr. Woodhouse responsible for adding a photograph of her in a toilet seat, I mean really Einstein! I have blown more intelligent life in my handkerchief than what I have seen or heard from Woodhouse. Good luck...Mr Woodhouse..

Don't look back in Anger through a long drop.

It's not anger EOF, it's karmic retribution or if you like cause and effect.
Plus looking back gives me a picture of someones mind.
Some will learn from the past and others such as Woodhouse will never learn as he calls it "it's politics".
I do like your comment...well spoken and a nice set of words.....thanks

How desperate the Nats must be to give this person a real role. He was the one involved in withholding information of two women who broke the quarantine regulations by having contact with a third party supposedly to get out of Auckland on the freeway. When called out he said "that is politics". Well would you trust him to do the best by people or politics? As for his treatment of the former labour member in Dunedin this is just too horrible to even think about. And I am not in his electorate, thank heaven.

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