Bill English made a good start to his premiership yesterday, making some personal declarations even before he was sworn in. While he was "an active Catholic and proud of it", he said he would not be using his position to promote socially conservative changes in New Zealand. Echoing US President John F Kennedy half a century ago, he said while his faith was an important influence, it did not define him.
Kennedy was elected two years before English was born. Surely that particular glass ceiling has been well and truly shattered. New Zealand elected a Catholic Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, three times in the 1990s and the nation survived. There is no harm in voters noting this sort of religious association because, as the new Prime Minister concedes, it is an important influence on his values. He remains personally opposed to abortion and euthanasia although no longer to gay marriage, he said yesterday.
Whatever his church's position, English has come around to the view that same-sex ceremonies do not undermine the status and sanctity of marriage. "In some ways it's an affirmation of the concept," he said.
When these sort of issues come before Parliament they are invariably decided by a free vote. The Prime Minister's vote is just one of 120 of so, but it can be influential. John Key's declared support of gay marriage during the preparation of a Private Member's bill has been credited with a pivotal role in bringing conservative opinion around on the issue. He did not persuade English at that time, which is one measure of the differences between them.
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But if the country now has a more conservative Prime Minister by nature, that will have its benefits. It is hard to imagine English humouring radio jocks with more personal information than the nation wants to know.
If English is perceived as a little dull, the caucus has given him a deputy who presents a happy contrast. Paula Bennett's promotion yesterday was the more interesting decision. Lively and personable as she seems, she does not look like a safe and dependable deputy, the sort to be confidently left in charge.
But clearly her colleagues have confidence in her, and English has worked closely with her on housing policies this term. She has been in the senior "kitchen cabinet" of ministers since before the last election, which shows her judgment is valued highly.
Bennett has some of Key's political qualities - a cheerful, chatty manner that enables her to relate to people easily as well as making it easy for critics and opponents to under-estimate her. She has beaten Simon Bridges for the deputy's post and be a contender for leadership if English does not take the Government to a fourth term.
So will be all of those who put their hand up, however briefly, for a leadership role this time. They were doing no more than putting their names into discussion for the future.
For now, the English-Bennett era begins with no sign of rancour in the caucus, although that may change if their Cabinet does not contain some new faces. Several veterans need to realise it is time to go.