The boring cliché is that a week is a long time in politics. I guess a fortnight is a long time in column writing.
Two weeks ago, I said we were living in a post-accountability era of politics and cited Clare Curran's meeting with Carol Hirschfeld as one example of politicians behaving irresponsibly and getting away with it. Well, the Prime Minister sure showed me.
Curran committed the same sin again of having an inappropriate meeting, though it wasn't the crime that got her in trouble, but rather the cover-up. Using a personal email account to conduct political affairs is a big no-no (but her emails!), not recording the meeting in your diary is also a bad look, and then neglecting to mention the meeting at all when asked who you've met was the final straw that broke the camel's back. Except the camel's back took five days before buckling under pressure, which is not great form from the Prime Minister's office.
I'm told that the Department of Internal Affairs was running probity on Derek Handley as the possible CTO when it became aware of the meeting and alerted the PM's office on Monday. Between Monday and Friday, the PM's office had to get its facts straight, its story sorted and then wait for its big announcements on health and transport on Friday. So while it is still cynical to wait until Friday at 4pm to kick your first Minister out of Cabinet, there are at least some mitigating factors.
Curran's lost her "Open Government" portfolio, and her Digital Services portfolios - and the latter will sorely hurt her as she is passionate about the tech sector - but retained her broadcasting portfolio. It's a sort of halfway house punishment. Out the door of Cabinet but keeping some of her portfolios.
Despite this, it allowed the PM to draw a line in the sand for behaviour. Jacinda Ardern will forgive you a first offence, she is after all the Prime Minister of Kindness, but fool her twice? Well that's going to be shame on you. If the crime is minor enough - and in this instance it is - a sacking offence is usually quite good for a leader, it gives them the chance to show strength and discipline. It sends a message that they will not be putting up with rubbish like this and that ministers will be held accountable.
While it was not handled perfectly, the ultimate result has probably been a net-benefit for Ardern.
Over in the National corner and Simon Bridges must be looking with envy at the opportunity the PM got. The leaking of his expenses was a trivial matter which he took very personally and wanted somebody's head. He was sure it was the Speaker who leaked the numbers so demanded an inquiry. This allowed the media to continue to run the story and heavily imply that it was somebody in National who had been disloyal. And goodness knows the country hates a Party divided.
It was a bad decision to demand the inquiry, but after he'd taken that path, Bridges had acquitted himself well. He was using it as an attack-line on the Government, saying that the Government was trying to distract (though from what?).
But then came the reporting of the text messages.
An anonymous person texted Bridges, the Speaker and a reporter information that only a National Party MP or staffer would have. They said that they had terrible mental health problems and was struggling so please call off the hounds. Given Bridges has decided to go against researched evidence and be tough on law and order, he was backed into a corner here. He couldn't call for the inquiry to end, that would seem weak and be giving in to blackmail, but he also needed to show he had compassion for someone with potentially dangerous mental health problems. First though, he continued his battle against proof and went on TV to continue to push the line that the leak was probably from the Government.
Then at a press conference, he insisted the inquiry should continue. But the Speaker had other ideas. With information to hand that this was 99 per cent likely to be an inside job, Mallard said National needed to keep their own house tidy and so could continue the inquiry if they wanted, but he would be cancelling the official inquiry.
This was the worst of all outcomes for Bridges. He had to choose whether to chase an internal leak, that either has mental health problems or lied about them and who is actively trying to destabilise his leadership, or potentially appear weak, but compassionate. He has chosen the tough guy route.
Schadenfreude is taking pleasure from someone else's misfortunes. Ardernfreude must be the feeling of impotence Simon gets when he looks at the Prime Minister and wishes he had the same capability, nous and opportunities she has.
- David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green Parties and interned for Bill English while studying