When the Prime Minister left Judith Collins off a list of departing ministers who can wear the title Honourable for life, he may have made trouble for himself this term. It suggested he does not intend to bring her back into his Cabinet if she is exonerated by the inquiry into whether she was "gunning" for the head of the former Serious Fraud Office, Adam Feeley, when Justice Minister.
She expects to be exonerated, and probably will be. She has denied the remark attributed to her by her friend, the blogger Cameron Slater, and she would not be the first to be embarrassed by his phraseology, as John Key well knows.
If she is cleared the title will be restored to her, a spokesman for the Prime Minister says. She must fear that is all that will be restored to her. Otherwise, she would not have stamped her feet so publicly this week over being left off the list. For the first time in the life of this Government there is a crack in its ranks.
Collins said she was "deeply surprised" by the Prime Minister's decision but added, "I'm even more surprised not to have anyone speak to me about it. It is up to John. It is his decision." She sounds seriously piqued.
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The interesting question now is what he will do with her if she is cleared. He could leave her on the back benches where she would either serve time in the hope of being restored to his cabinet one day, or she would simmer with resentment and await her chance to strike back. Things usually go wrong for a government in its third term. She might fancy her chance will come.
But she could be in for a long wait. Newly re-elected with an unprecedented third successive increase in the party's seats, the Prime Minister holds all the cards. The public and other MPs know why he sacked her. Slater's email about Adam Feeley was just the last - and least - of the difficulties she has caused for him, and not only this year. She has been an accident-prone minister from the beginning, made worse by her habitually haughty response.
Nevertheless, disgraced ministers have not usually lost "The Hon" while under investigation. Key has broken new ground and it sets a good precedent. For too long the title has meant little, being hardly used beyond ministers' letterheads and their name on the door. It does not travel well to business or private life after politics, unlike a knighthood for those who deserve one.
Newly retired Maori Party ministers Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples were granted The Hon for life by Key this week. They are probably in line for more at New Year. Judith Collins has had a different message. She is not coming back.