Claire Trevett on politics

Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: Dream over for the man who would be Speaker

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Tau Henare. Photo / NZPA
Tau Henare. Photo / NZPA

It is never easy viewing, seeing a dream lie in shreds, and for all the inevitability of it, the end of National MP Tau Henare's tilt to be Speaker was no exception.

The Prime Minister tried to do it gently.

Henare had shown "enthusiasm" and there was nothing wrong with enthusiasm. Unfortunately for Henare, up to half a dozen others had also shown enthusiasm and had done so in a slightly more subtle style than Henare.

There was a "process," Mr Key said, and that did not involve pitching a tent and shrilling about one's wares to all and sundry like some latter-day fishwife.

So while the Government was yet to choose its nominee, it was clear it would not be Henare.

Had anyone been in doubt why Henare was not the Prime Minister's first choice, he soon showed them.

Henare took to Twitter to turn on the Maori Party, describing them variously as "cowards", "weak" and "scared" for caving in to the Government. He did not point out that he was part of that same Government he was now futilely railing against.

Henare was admired by some for his gumption. What he did do was put some life and, yes, fun, into an appointment which is usually settled very quietly, despite the importance of the role.

As well as his open run for the job and direct challenge of his boss' wishes, Henare had a vision of the Speaker's role as he believed it should be. That included "Speakers' Tours" around New Zealand, rather than the traditional jaunt in which the Speaker takes a band of merry MPs overseas. It was admirably frugal - although campaigning on taking away one of the precious few overseas trips that remains for MPs possibly explains his lack of success in getting the votes he needed.

Key said several MPs "beat a path to my door" to test their chances. But there are two likely contenders: David Carter and Maurice Williamson.

One of Henare's gripes was that he wanted the role, whereas the man considered likely to get it - David Carter - did not.

Carter the Reluctant appears to be the first choice, possibly because he is in the Cabinet. Sending him to the Speaker's chair would open up a handy space for the prodigal, Nick Smith, to return.

Somewhat surprisingly, Labour leader David Shearer voiced a preference for Williamson and by yesterday Labour was openly championing him for the job.

It is not clear whether that support was genuine, or mischief-making to try to secure the post for Williamson so that Nick Smith could not be returned to the Cabinet.

However, the goal of mischief appears the most likely, given that in 2008 Labour objected strenuously to the choice of Lockwood Smith - largely because he was considered a right-wing ideologue incapable of the neutrality required of the Speaker.

Williamson, too, is generally considered to warm his hands around the campfire of Genghis Khan - and although Smith proved them wrong on the neutrality front, there is no guarantee Williamson will follow suit.

In the normal order of things, appointing Williamson directly after Smith would open National to claims it was using the Speaker's chair as the retirement home for its ideologues.

Yet in a press release yesterday Labour's Trevor Mallard said Williamson would be "outstanding" while Carter had not shown any interest in the job and had never involved other parties in his policy formulation.

The reason Shearer gave for his preference was because Williamson had a sense of humour. It is not clear where Shearer got his view that the Speaker should be able to double as a stand-up comedian. He does have a point, however. Humour usually goes hand in hand with perspective and can help smooth out over-reactions.

As for Henare, the bid was generally considered his tilt at a second chance, however futile it was. Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson had managed to resurrect their political lives after being considered to be in the departure lounge in 2008.

Henare is less likely to escape the law of physics - when asked if he had damaged his prospects through his bid he pointed to the downward trajectory of his list ranking in 2008 as a sign that there were no future prospects to damage.

When Key was asked why he did not believe Henare was suitable, he set out a list of the attributes he was looking for in a new Speaker. The first was a rather ominous sign for Henare's job security: "longevity".

It would seem all the bar seats in the Last Chance Saloon are taken.

- NZ Herald

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