Use-by dates for politicians

Tracy Watkins looks at the use-by date of politicians.

Goff’s valedictory was typically warm and funny – qualities which, if he had managed to harness them as leader, might have made all the difference (if not to Labour’s result in 2011, then to Goff’s political legacy).

Because while his reputation as one of Labour’s smartest and most diligent MPs is hard earned, those qualities did not resonate with the public during his leadership.

Which is why Labour won’t mourn his departure – much.

Which makes it even more astonishing that National couldn’t find a candidate to beat him for the role of Auckland Mayor.

Goff will leave a big hole in Labour’s ranks. But his resignation gives the party an opportunity to meet a much bigger imperative of filling that hole with a ?fresh face and new talent.

In contrast to US politics, where two post-pension age candidates are duking it out for the presidency, MPs here are increasingly under pressure to recognise their use-by date.

The youngest MP elected at the 2014 election was 24 and for the first time Parliament also had a representative of Generation Y, those born from 1986 to 2005. Meanwhile, 54 per cent of the current Parliament are baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, so not overwhelmingly old, but not young either.

But it’s not so much age that counts against MPs, as time served in Parliament. The idea of a safe seat being a sinecure is slowly disappearing.

I don’t think use-by date is the correct term. I think using “best before” would be more appropriate.

Maurice Williamson, 65, has finally been prised out of Pakuranga with the promise of a plum job in Los Angeles. Lindsay Tisch, 69, ?is retiring from the blue ribbon Waikato seat.

On the other side of the House, Goff’s departure opens the door to former union organiser?Michael Wood, while Trevor Mallard’s decision to step aside in Hutt South for a list-only seat has got three new faces vying to replace him.

John Key is allergic to time servers and a zealot about rejuvenation; he vowed to learn a lesson from Helen Clark’s failure to refresh her ranks, which gradually eroded Labour’s support by fuelling a mood for change.

So the prime minister’s signal this week that “one or two” of his ministers might be thinking about retirement would have sent a frisson of fear through Cabinet, and perked up his back bench no end.

It’s a fair bet some of those on the “retirement” list won’t have realised till now that this may be their last few months in the portfolio.

While Key is not above carrying poorly-performing ministers he is comparatively ruthless judged on past standards, when political leaders used to equate sacking ministers with losing mana.

Key set the bar by sacking Housing MInister Phil Heatley and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson for mediocrity and in doing so saved himself from having to breathe too heavily down the necks of future under-performers.

Faced with the spectre of being publicly “retired” by the prime minister, or finding their own way to the gang plank, most would rather choose the latter as the more dignified option.

So who should be nervous? Probably Hawke’s Bay’s Craig Foss, Maungakiekie’s?Sam Lotu-Iiga (though the nightmares from his time in Corrections are fading), Nicky Wagner, and Women’s Minister Louise Upston.

Patience with Housing Minister Nick Smith is wearing thin in the caucus, meanwhile, not just over the housing crisis but the Kermadecs debacle, which has led to bad blood between Smith and Key favourite Maggie Barry. But handing Labour Smith’s scalp might be a bridge too far for Key.

Tisch should have been gone two elections ago. Nicky?Wagner won’t go, she has already stared down Key once before…it is why she is a minister in the first place. Louise Upston hasn’t been effective. Nick Smith and Murray McCully should be on the must cull list. I’d knife NZ’s favourite grandmother too, mainly for her dopey 1080 stance but also for endorsing and assisting Auckland Future get Labour candidates across the line in North Shore local body seats. Nick Smith is a walking liability. Nathan Guy is a fool and David Carter never really had a best-before date and is well past his use-by date.

There are far better candidates for ministers jobs sitting on the?back bench. Scott Simpson, Mark Mitchell and Alfred Ngaro?spring to mind.

Watkins has focussed on National but has yet to really draw her beady eyes across the lack of talent that Andrew Little has to work with…starting with himself.