Editorial: Skill, not ego, should decide Cabinet seats

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John Key will need the most impressive team he can muster to sustain the Government's support through a second team.
Photo / Martin Sykes
John Key will need the most impressive team he can muster to sustain the Government's support through a second team. Photo / Martin Sykes

John Key will be getting plenty of unsolicited advice this week on the shape of his second ministry. His own instinct is probably to make as little change as possible to the Cabinet that has performed well enough through the Government's first term. The election result said the voters see no need for change. National has been returned with an increased share of the vote and its partner parties have survived, albeit narrowly in Act's case. Why change a winning formula?

Marketers of successful commercial products often ask themselves the same question, and often make bold changes. They do it because success is not static or permanent. It comes from keeping ahead of the wave.

As Mr Key contemplates a Cabinet reshuffle he would do well to forget the election result and look ahead. He will need the most impressive team he can muster to sustain the Government's support through a second term. Ability, not loyalty, should guide his selections. This is the moment to promote all good performers from the first-term backbenches, not next year or the year after when a reshuffle might be a desperate response to waning polls.

Reshuffles in those circumstances almost never work the magic needed but there is not much else the desperate can do.

A reshuffle ahead of the wave can quietly remove under-performers, relieve bruised or weary ministers and present fresh faces to the public before it has lost interest in the old ones. Mr Key could achieve all of those benefits by starting his reshuffle with a blank sheet and picking the best 20 of his caucus regardless of their seniority, sensitivities, ego, gender or expectations.

Thanks to his deal with Peter Dunne and John Banks yesterday his next Cabinet will consist entirely of National MPs. Neither of the independents made a seat at the table a condition of his support and it is unlikely that the Maori Party would want a closer association with the Government than it has. So the Prime Minister has plenty of room to move and the appointments he will make shortly could be crucial to the life of this Government.

The retirements of Simon Power, Georgina te Heuheu and Wayne Mapp have given him a number of seats to allocate without upsetting anybody, but he ought to be much more daring. He is at the stage in his premiership when he cannot avoid upsetting some of his colleagues. The ambitious will be as resentful as any removed minister would be.

National's backbenchers realise that time is already running out on their chances of ministerial fulfilment. If they do not make the Cabinet now their chance might not come again until the Government is nearing the end of its natural life, when retirements and desperate reshuffles might bring them in for five minutes at the fag end of the final term. Many of them will deserve better than that.

Only the Prime Minister and his party really knows who among the caucus deserves promotion to the Cabinet. Outside observers can only assess them on parliamentary efforts and fleeting media appearances.

Often the best of them are those who spend their backbench years beavering on select committees and other legislative work out of the public eye. National's Amy Adams and Simon Bridges might be in that category.

Similarly, senior ministers who do not perform overly well in public, such as Nick Smith, may be more effective behind the scenes.

Mr Key should not make his selections on public popularity criteria. He should appoint his best people for the various portfolios and trust that voters will assess his Government by their results.

- NZ Herald

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