Why Steven Joyce had to go
By Richard Harman (author)
Steven Joyce was putting a brave face on it yesterday, but the reality is that he has been constructively dismissed by National’s new Leader, Simon Bridges.
Joyce told reporters yesterday that he had not been offered his old job of Finance spokesperson by Bridges but could have anything else he might want on the front bench.
What he didn’t say was that he would also fall down the party rankings and would no longer be part of the inner shadow cabinet.
So he was resigning.
Bridges would have been well aware that Joyce had mounted a last-ditch stand to keep his job during the leadership contest of the past fortnight.
He had support from the party organisation heavyweights who were worried that they might lose his campaigning experience altogether.
It seems they might have had reason.
He said yesterday he had done five campaigns as campaign chair --- "possibly the longest-serving campaign chair in known history."
“In fact, at the Victoria University post-election conference I discovered that only Colin James and Stephen Levine had been around longer than me which is a sure sign that perhaps somebody else should chair an election campaign at some point,” he said.
“But I am happy to help.”
Even so, Joyce was visibly disappointed by the caucus vote last week.
Though he is contesting Matthew Hooton’s claim that he got less than five votes, it is a claim that POLITIK has heard from multiple sources.
It would seem likely that apart from his own vote; Nathan Guy, Louise Upston and possibly Andrew Falloon were his only certain votes. There were however some suggestions that a number of rural MPs had turned to support him late in the campaign because of their concerns that if Bridges were to win he would push for a more aggressive policy on climate change.
But regardless, it was a humiliating rejection of the man who had dominated caucus as the strategist-extraordinaire since National assumed power in 2008.
Bridges had been clear right from the start of his campaign; he would not endorse Joyce as Finance spokesperson.
His refusal to do that was about much more than personalities.
Though Bridges is from the right of the caucus on economic matters he is close to other former Ministers who questioned Joyce’s emphasis on tax cuts rather than extra spending on health and education.
As Transport Minister, Bridges was also clearly frustrated with the way Joyce had played politics with the Auckland Central Rail loop and funding the Auckland Transport Alignment project.
But yesterday Joyce was defending his tax cuts; he said that they weren’t being implemented was really his only regret.
“Particularly this issue that is going to become more and more apparent which is that you have got people on the average wage in three years time will be paying the top tax rate,” he said.
“Having people pay 33% tax on the average wage is untenable.”
Maybe, but Bridges has given enough hints to suggest that will not be a priority.
It would seem likely that he will appoint Amy Adams as Finance spokesperson and Judith Collins, Regional Development, a portfolio that Bridges told Newstalk ZB’s Leighton Smith the party would be targeting in particular.
Gerry Brownlee looks set to continue as Shadow Leader of the House though he may lose his Foreign Affairs spokesmanship.
That leaves another five positions in the top ten. Candidates could include Jonathan Coleman, Mark Mitchell, Todd McClay and possibly Michael Woodhouse, Nikki Kaye and Paul Goldsmith.
There will be question marks over the future of David Carter and Nicky Wagener. Both are list MPs, but if they were to go, it would further reduce South Island representation in the caucus because they would be replaced by two Auckland ethnic candidates, Agnes Loheni and Paulo Garcia.
Joyce will be replaced by the party’s Wellington Central candidate and former advisor to John Key, Nicola Willis, tipped by many as a rising star within the party.
His departure as Campaign Chair will raise other issues.
National Party pollster, David Farrar, made the point last night that it was not usual for the campaign chair to be an MP and the role might, therefore, revert to a party official.
And Joyce's departure could provoke some turmoil within the party which he virtually completely redesigned when he became general manager in 2002..
There will be all the more reason for Peter Goodfellow to stay on as President to maintain some continuity with the Joyce era which saw the party win the largest share of the vote in four consecutive elections.
And his departure marks the end of the Key/English Government.
The caucus has been agitating for "rejuvenation" since John Key resigned in November 2016. For many that call was code for Joyce to go.
He was not close to many of the newer members of the Caucus and his style, which could at times be imperious, grated with some.
His senior colleagues knew he would be unlikely to get much support in his leadership bid and advised him not to run.
But he did, he failed, and now he is going. He probably had little choice.