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March 14, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Resignation of Simon Power

They’re dropping like flies. Joining the likes of Keith Locke, Roger Douglas and Wayne Mapp, Simon Power is the latest in a list to announce the intention to leave Parliament at the upcoming election.

While the septuagenarian Roger Douglas is well past his use-by date, and Mapp’s age puts him outside of any real possibility of leadership contention, Power’s resignation is a little harder to fathom, especially considering the promising future Parliament seemed to hold for National’s fourth-placed MP.

Power’s seemingly premature departure is a move not without precedent though. A friend and colleague of Power’s, Katherine Rich quit politics at the 2008 election despite sitting fairly high in the parliamentary caucus. Perhaps, as David Farrar points out, Power is following a trend that sees some of these younger politicians putting in 12-15 years before pursuing other ambitions, loath to follow the sort of path that has seen the likes of Phil Goff slogging away in public office for 30 years.

Or perhaps, Gordon Campbell’s cynical argument is more applicable: that the minister’s departure is simply “proof that Parliament is such a toxic environment that any sane person would (or should) be constantly weighing the possible rewards, against the day to day costs.”

The Prime Minister said Power’s announcement left him “stunned and flabbergasted”, opining that the departing would have made “a fine Prime Minister”. With a little consideration however, and it’s not so difficult to understand the decision. What were Power’s leadership prospects? National are clear favourites running into this election, which will give Key another term at the helm. However, as the New Zealand Herald’s John Armstrong points out, if National failed to win a third term in 2014 and the party were subsequently in opposition for two terms, Power, as a potential party leader would be waiting until at least 2020 before assuming the role of Prime Minister. Furthermore, the scenario would only play out if he remained uneclipsed by any as-yet-unknown National MPs with leadership ambitions—remember John Key was only a member of the National Party for four years before becoming leader of the opposition in 2006.

There appears to be little doubt that Power can be taken at his word in his decision to move on. As he has outlined, “I had a three-year plan which we’d decided to execute once we came into Government and it had always been my plan to do that and then to exit.” Power was given the portfolios he wanted to address from the outset, and with undeniable determination and competency, it seems Power has addressed what he intended to address. Now it’s time for the 41-year-old to move on to the next stage in his career, a move Key himself has similarly indicated he intends to make if by some miracle National don’t prevail in November.
So where does that leave National?

Power and Mapp’s resignations creates a space at the top of the National caucus for a potential leader who might resonate with the public as well as Key does (in the highly unlikely situation of his own premature departure). They also provide the opportunity for Key to reshuffle his cabinet and inject some younger blood. Predictions for a replacement for Power’s Justice portfolio have included the likes of current Police Minister Judith Collins, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson or Simon Bridges. Sure, Collins is ideologically close enough to Power to continue his work in the portfolio, but by elevating Bridges to the position, National can communicate to voters a desire to remain fresh and relevant.

All things considered, Power’s resignation is undeniably a huge loss for the Government, and we can only hope that Key doesn’t undermine Power’s work like he did with Rich’s education portfolio when he appointed it to the loathsome Anne Tolley.

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