7 October 2014
One of the challenges facing any government – particularly a long-term government – is that of regeneration. And the conventional wisdom is that by and large, governments are not very good at that, because the last thing politicians want to do is think too much about who might succeed them.
When changes are made and Cabinets reshuffled they are generally dismissed as cosmetic exercises, mere fiddling around the edges, removing the one or two more obvious problems, but leaving the essential fabric more or less untouched.
Well, actually, that conventional wisdom does not accord with reality. Politics is a game of constant regeneration, and the present government is a good example of that. Of the 58 National MPs elected when the party came to office in 2008, just 34 remain MPs today. 24, nearly 42%, of that original Caucus have for one reason or another moved on within the intervening 6 years. A similar pattern applies with regard to Ministerial selections. Just 12 Ministers (44%) remain from those appointed to john Key’s first Ministry in 2008. Within the Cabinet itself there has been a 45% turnover rate in the last 6 years.
Now, the sceptic might concede that this process of subtle, steady change under John Key is unusual, and that the parlous state of the Labour Party at present shows what happens when a party does not regenerate and lets the old guard hang on for too long.
But they would be wrong too. Of 43 Labour MPs elected in 2008, only 18 remain today. 58% of Labour’s post 2008 election Caucus has moved on, or been moved on, a far higher turnover rate than National’s. All of which gives the lie to the old guard argument Labour has been suffering from.
Overall, a bare majority – 61 MPs – has been elected at or since the 2008 election, which means a just over 50% turnover rate of MPs in the last 6 years. Moreover, just 21 of our current MPs were in Parliament 10 years ago. The average life of a New Zealand MP remains at just over two terms.
So, in reality, we do have a high and constant rate of MP turnover, contrary to the public perception. The challenge therefore is not so much the turnover question, but the twofold one of ensuring that the quality of MPs coming into Parliament is high, and that a sufficient number of experienced MPs is re-elected each election to ensure continuity and stability. And that is where the unfailingly correct judgement of the electorate at large plays the decisive role.