National Axe Looms - Shipley Resigns
by Selwyn Manning
National Party leader Jenny Shipley announced tonight that she would quit her leadership role.
The announcement came after National's deputy leader Bill English informed Shipley that he had the numbers to oust her.
She announced her resignation, soon after.
Speculation has been rife in recent months. It came to a head after died-in-the-wool National Party members were appalled that their leader had "bad mouthed" New Zealand, again while overseas. It reinforced a notion of poor performance of the opposition leader.
Jenny Shipley’s political instincts have often been questioned. The latest incident to raise eyebrows was when Shipley claiming the United States Bush administration was not pleased with New Zealand's degree of commitment in the "war against terrorism".
Speculation intensified in September when the opposition leader was absent during what could accurately be termed the Labour/Alliance Government’s most trying session of Parliament, largely due to the international crisis, and, the near collapse of Air New Zealand.
On returning from her overseas engagements, Jenny Shipley denied that there was any move to oust her from the top Tory job. She re-claimed her intention to lead National through to the General Election in late 2002.
But Shipley's time was passed. She represented and represents a right-leaning faction within National, a group aligned to an ideology that her party embraced through the 1990s.
Friend Ruth Richardson, who was a high-riser within National ranks in the 1980s, lured Shipley into public life. Richardson of course became finance minister on National winning the 1990 General Election, and was the creator of slash and burn budgets – the first of which was 1991’s The Mother of ALL Budgets.
Shipley herself rose above mere ministerial aspirations. She led a successful leadership coup against Jim Bolger in 1997, becoming New Zealand's first woman prime minister.
A short time later the National/New Zealand First coalition disintegrated and Shipley managed to hold on to power with a minority government supported by a handful of former New Zealand First MPs and independents and the ACT party.
The rot set in after Jenny Shipley led National to defeat, losing to Labour leader Helen Clark, in the November 1999 General Election.
Shipley's political career had once burned bright. It took off at a rocket-pace. Known as the "technocrat" Shipley led right-wing reform in the social welfare and health portfolios through the early 1990s. But that approach has fallen largely out of favour both with a public centrist mood and with her own caucus.
Within a right-leaning caucus, Shipley found favour and loyalty. The 1999 General Election brought with is a 'new breed" of National MPs aligned to the more centrist politics of Bill English's "brat pack".
It was evident throughout the early part of this political term, Bill English’s pack held the power in caucus. During Parliament’s question time, it was common for Jenny Shipley to relinquish her customary right to challenge the prime minister on things political, settling often for a trivial question way up the list, or settling for no question at all.
She had failed to rattle Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark in parliament's debating chambers, and it appeared the brat pack were building a shadow cabinet within a caucus.
National’s political pragmatists have known since the last election that Shipley's leadership prevents their party from reclaiming its traditional centre-ground - a patch that is overcrowded but essential for any major party if it is to realistically challenge an incumbent for the treasury benches.
Slowly, but inevitably, Shipley's grim reaper came knocking, advanced in its haste somewhat after she chose to be absent from New Zealand after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and amid the ongoing crisis over Air New Zealand.
The move to rid National of Shipley gained ground after new president Michelle Boag took official office. She made claim to supporting a rejuvenated National Party. Although Boag denied she wished for a leadership change. She did demand a "better performance" from National MPs.
National Members of Parliament will vote in a caucus meeting tomorrow on their new leader - Bill English will obviously be the man.