John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Clever job switch for PM's press secretary

Prime Minister John Key and Kevin Taylor. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key and Kevin Taylor. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Much of the chief press secretary's job involves anticipating when and where things might go awry.

National's mini-slump in a couple of opinion polls and a major switch in roles for the Prime Minister's chief press secretary Kevin Taylor are coincidental. However, the appointment of Taylor to a new post as John Key's principal communications adviser comes not a moment too soon for National - both for positive and negative reasons.

The change - suggested by Taylor and accepted by Key - will see Taylor step back from dealing with the huge pressures imposed on the Prime Minister's office in responding to the ever-increasing multimedia-driven queries, requests and outright demands for action or reaction on Key's part.

Taylor will now take on a long overdue and much-needed role out of the public spotlight in which he can adopt a strategic approach to how the Government sells its policies without being constantly distracted.

He will also deal with "ministerial issues" - code for him parachuting into ministers' offices when things are going badly wrong in some portfolio or other.

Arguably such a position should have been created immediately after the last election.

A second term in power is always much more challenging than the first. The public is suddenly less tolerant of mistakes. Cabinet ministers can no longer blame the previous Government for lack of action on something. Opposition parties have stopped looking inwards following defeat and start looking outwards again.

In National's case, the party's efforts to highlight good news have been overshadowed by a string of post-election sideshows and distractions.

Much of the chief press secretary's job involves anticipating when and where things might go awry. He or she gets no credit for doing so. When things do go wrong, effective damage control requires that someone brief the media in some detail as to why the Government is or is not doing certain things.

That is something which has rarely occurred during Taylor's time. He has instead clashed with some journalists who saw him as obstructing access to information.

For his part, Taylor showed little patience with the media's tendency to revel in what he saw as relative trivia.

His labelling as "Captain Panic Pants" - legend has it National MPs first gave him that title - is something of a misnomer. A bit more public panic might have been in order at times rather than pulling up the Beehive drawbridge and riding out the various mini-crises which have afflicted the current Government .

That said, he has timed his departure from his seven-year-long high-profile role wisely, giving his successor, Kelly Boxall, a more than 18-month lead-up to the next election. With the polls suddenly looking less cheery for National, she faces a steep and daunting learning curve.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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