Immediately after taking control of the Act Party, Don Brash said he "saw sense" in Rodney Hide staying on as a minister. The former leader, for his part, was adamant that he wanted to remain Minister of Local Government, Minister of Regulatory Reform and an Associate Minister of Education.

A few days later, Dr Brash seemed to be changing his mind. He indicated that he would ask the Prime Minister to give Mr Hide's portfolios to another MP. But yesterday, he reverted to his first instinct. As is often the case, it was the right one. To have deprived Mr Hide of his ministerial roles would have smacked of over-the-top ruthlessness.

There were several good reasons for allowing Mr Hide to remain a minister until the general election, when he will retire from Parliament. He has carried a heavy burden, especially in orchestrating the Super City. While he has had his share of critics, especially in terms of the powers allotted to council controlled organisations in the initial blueprint, his willingness to make concessions ensured the emergence of a workable framework. That work is not complete. The Super City is still coming to life, and Mr Hide is heading the Government response to the Auckland Council's spatial plan.

Continuing this work is far more significant than the reason mentioned by Dr Brash; that Mr Hide was remaining to steer important bills through Parliament.

This referred to legislation stemming from Dr Brash's 2025 Taskforce and the Regulatory Standards Bill. Both should not take up too much of Mr Hide's time. Only minor and moderate parts of the now-disbanded taskforce's findings are involved, and the Government is committed to supporting the ill-considered regulatory standards legislation only as far as a select committee. It is highly unlikely to proceed further.

But Mr Hide's immersion in the local government portfolio should not be underestimated. Another MP could not have been expected to get up to speed overnight - it would more than likely take most of the seven months until the election. John Key, for one, would not have been keen to see a new face trying to defend an important aspect of his Government programme in public forums. Indeed, he might well have blanched when he considered the options available to Act's new leader.

This paucity of choice led to suggestions that Dr Brash would surrender Mr Hide's responsibilities and the consumer affairs and associate commerce portfolios held by the party's deputy leader, John Boscawen. This would give Act a freer hand to criticise the Government. It would, therefore, be better placed to avoid the fate of small parties that had been tarred by close association with a senior governing party.

In the end, Dr Brash has gone halfway along this path in relinquishing Mr Boscawen's portfolios. Doubtless, he sees this as a way of achieving the sort of differentiation that will be vital if Act is to get anywhere near his goal of 15 per cent of the party vote. While he and four of the Act MPs stake out the party's position, the public will be invited to see Mr Hide as a minister involved largely in the mechanics of government, and one whose time in the Act fold has but a short time to run.

Dr Brash was clearly tempted to make an unequivocal breach with the past. Stripping Mr Hide of his ministerial roles would have put further distance between Act and what he has described as a "toxic" brand.

But, on balance, there were more good reasons for not going down that path. Worst of all, there could have been considerable implications for Dr Brash's public persona. His coup strategy and execution was cold-blooded. A further strike against Mr Hide would have seemed cold-hearted.