3 News is reporting that Rodney will keep his portfolios - which, well, why wouldn't he? He had stitched up the agreement with the Nats to pretty much guarantee his continuing presence as a minister regardless of what happened to Act when Sir Roger inevitably tried it on - but what I was interested in is:
Mr Hide will retire at this November's election, so will definitely not be standing in Epsom again.
I really thought he had more fight in him than this, but I guess he must have been convinced by some dark polling figures (rather than a caucus turned hostile) that he couldn't make it back in Epsom. The whole girlfriend-on-taxpayer-funded-holiday thing hurt him bad - stabbing right into the core of his perk-buster image and popped it supremely. It would be difficult to win back Epsom after that, but not impossible, and his own party machine he built up in the electorate is a fortress, so it will have been Don Brash and some big money and senior supporters of Act pulling the plug that would have done it. Maybe the missus too. You can't say the man hasn't been under pressure.
If Rodney is in and John Boscawen is out then it makes Rodney Hide an independent in all but name. And as for Boscawen, such a decent chap (and something of a free thinker in a party of frozen doctrine), so his Ministerial loss he must take as a loyal party trooper (albeit a well-resourced one who contributed mightily to Act's 2008 election funding). Boscawen is now the parliamentary leader of the party (and continues as deputy leader) so while he finds himself stripped of his Ministerial warrants at the direction of the new leader he also finds himself temporarily promoted. As for the craven backroom conspiracies that have led to this moment, I can't imagine that Boscawen would have had much of a hand in it. It's always been a wrestless Sir Roger that has been determined to make some waves, or Tsunami, regardless of what is drowned in the process. And I should have known from that secret smile that Heather Roy just couldn't get off her face on last week's Backbenchers show that something major was afoot.
We now have a situation of coalition instability - although it is manageable from the Nat's perspective in that Act (and the Maori Party) will still help them pass the budget - it was enough of an excuse for Helen Clark in 2002 to call an early election. It took the Nats by surprise and they did very poorly, the Alliance imploded, and Labour did quite well. Will John Key make a similar call?
With Hone Harawira about to resign and trigger a by-election there is enough to reasonably get away with calling it early. Chris Carter has nothing to lose either, if he wanted to stir things up too, he could also resign and trigger a by-election in Te Atatu (where Sue Bradford or Liala Harre or some other strong candidate could contest for the Mana/People's party and may be expected to do very well in that situation against the relatively unknown Labour candidate, Phil Twyford). Imagine two Mana/People's party MPs in parliament before the election - that would be a huge advantage.
Both of National's main party supports are splintering and looking weak - calling an early election because the instability may continue and the government may lose a vote has a sense of legitimacy. Putting off the electoral referendum to a postal vote later in the year will play into conservative Shirtcliffe hands, so the Nat's won't care so much about that.
But is it in National's best interests? Probably.
The Nats aren't going to get much higher in the polls and they've got Helen Clark's 2002 precedent to go on - so they might think yes. Take advantage of Brash's honeymoon as Act leader? Go now to cut off Hone and his rebels on the Left so they can't get a party started in time - to save the Maori Party? Grey man Phil Goff is still leader of the opposition... There are a lot of plus reasons for the Nats to go now. They have their candidates lined up.
However, an election now - 6 or 7 weeks from now - will mean the budget is the issue and I don't think the average punter is much going to like Bill English's austerity. It will also herald and foreshadow the asset sales programme they want to start next year and the public aren't convinced it is necessary or wise. This budget is not designed as part of their campaign or as a manifesto and this is what it will become if they go now. It's three weeks away (May 19th) so they can't delay it. The only reason not to go now is the budget. Of course if one of Act or the Maori Party say they won't vote for it (for whatever reasons) then it's all on again, but I don't think either minor party are that desperate yet).