What next for English
By Richard Harman (author)
National’s contest for the deputy leadership saw the party pull back from what could have been a divisive vote today.
The new deputy leader, Paula Bennett, appears to have had only a slim majority over the other contender, Transport Minister Simon Bridges.
But Bridges withdrew his candidacy on Saturday thus paving the way for Bennett’s appointment.
She had some heavyweight support.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully was in the background of her campaign and the Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, Mark Mitchell, was doing her numbers.
It appears that it was on Wednesday last week that the inner Cabinet realised the extent of the insurrection that was taking place on the back bench and after Bill English got the numbers to gain the leadership, attention turned to saving Bennett.
Bennett had some advantages.
The fact that she is a woman saw her gain support from most of the females in National's caucus, but ultimately her de facto endorsement by English and her proven campaigning skills all helped push her over the line.
The question now is what next?
Though this has largely been a bloodless coup, there are still some drops on the floor.
Most of those belong to Jonathan Coleman whose candidacy is said to have angered the inner Cabinet and whose withdrawal has been seen as awkward by some Ministers.
Backbenchers spoken to by POLITIK, however, applaud his courage in announcing his candidacy first to the caucus and then opening up the whole question of generational renewal.
Coleman's bid seems to have been a solo effort; without "numbers men" or MP managers.
Bridges, on the other hand, had not only had a third of the Caucus solidly behind him but he probably also had some support from the top of the Cabinet table. Trade Minister Todd McClay was doing his numbers.
His withdrawal would have been seen as a positive contribution to party unity.
He is likely to get promotion to the front bench and to replace Steven Joyce as Minister of Economic Development and possibly become a part of the inner Cabinet.
Whether he will continue to play a role as deputy leader of the House or even become Leader remains to be seen.
Ultimately he remains on track to be a future leader of the party.
Otherwise, it is unclear what else will happen with the Cabinet.
One Minister said he thought the changes would be evolutionary rather than radical.
Names mentioned for promotion include Jami-Lee Ross and Mark Mitchell and, depending on what Sam Lotu Iiga decides to do, Alfred Ngaro.
But the more interesting changes may take place around the Cabinet.
Prime Minister John Key is said to have told the “class of 2014” that none could expect promotion to the Cabinet this term which rules out an upward promotion for Todd Muller, Chris Bishop and Barbara Kuriger.
However, there are positions outside the Cabinet which may be up for grabs.
The most obvious are the whips --- with both Chief Whip, Tim McIndoe and Junior Whip, Jami-Lee Ross, possibly bound for Ministerial roles or roles within the Speaker's team.
Three backbench MPs have been being “trained” as whips --- Shane Reti, Paul Foster-Bell and Sarah Dowie.
Their time might be soon.
Otherwise, there are the Ministerial positions outside Cabinet.
The “four amigos” --- Mitchell, Bishop, Muller and Ngaro – are obvious candidates if they don’t make the full Cabinet.
There are also some Select Committee chairs --- most notably Scott Simpson, Jonathan Young and Jacqui Dean --- who might also be considered for promotion.
Today is a big day for the National Party – the first of the English Government.
Sceptical backbenchers are going to be watching what he does and how he does it closely.
In some ways, he has still to truly win this leadership.