Today’s Herald editorial says that history shows that leadership changes while in Government do not bode well for Bill English and National – but the current situation is quite different to past failures.
The National Government today takes the greatest risk of its tenure – a leadership change. This has happened many times in our political history and not with happy results.
- Holyoake lost an election after taking over from an ailing Sydney Holland in mid-term.
- National was defeated after Sir Keith Holyoake finally handed over to Sir John Marshall (Holyoake was effectively forced out).
- The Kirk-Rowling Government did not survive the change forced upon it by Norman Kirk’s death.
- David Lange stood down for Sir Geoffrey Palmer in 1989 and he gave way to Mike Moore the following year (Palmer was rolled), six weeks before the election which it lost.
- The National Government replaced Prime Minister Jim Bolger with Dame Jenny Shipley (Bolger was rolled by Shipley) and was defeated at the next election.
If Bill English is contemplating this history as he prepares to be sworn-in this afternoon, he may take some comfort from the fact that none of New Zealand’s previous Prime Ministers left office in the same circumstances as John Key.
All quite different circumstances.
The Key Government was most certainly not heading for defeat when its Prime Minister announced his retirement a week ago.
That’s very debatable. It looked unlikely that National would get in again without at least getting NZ First support and that’s far from a given. And polls have at times had Labour+Greens competitive with National.
Key is handing his successor a party still polling high in a third term of office, a growing economy with low unemployment and rising budget surpluses that offer possibilities for additional investment in productivity and infrastructure at the same time as more rapid debt reduction and income tax cuts for the lower paid.
English has been well set up to win the election due later next year, which gives him plenty of time to establish his leadership too.
Not really. English has been given a fairly good opportunity, but a lot depends on how he manages the transition to leader, how the voting public views him in charge and the changes he makes to Cabinet, and many possible outside influences.
There is no direct comparison in history of a handover of leadership that we are just seeing – nor of how weak Labour currently is, requiring at least the Greens or NZ First to get back into power with a reduced proportion of the majority.
A lot can happen between now and whenever we have the next election (anywhere between March and November next year).