The Prime Minister executed perfect political judgement today.
She covered off all her bases so well that there was no political gain in firing David Clark. Actually, it would’ve done more harm than good.
So yes, she could’ve made an example of him to other rule-breakers. But she did that without firing him. She stripped him of a portfolio, dumped him to the bottom of the cabinet rankings and humiliated him by saying he would’ve been sacked if we weren’t in the middle of a health crisis.
Yes, it would’ve made her look strong when she has a track record of failing to fire errant ministers. But, she doesn’t need to look strong at the moment. Everything she’s doing at the moment with every twist of this pandemic response makes her look strong.
We are in the middle of the biggest health crisis in 102 years.
The health minister should be crucial. But, we can tell David Clark isn’t. That’s obvious from his geographic location. He’s in Dunedin when the people really running the response are all working together in Wellington
He can’t even answer basic questions. The number of times he had to ask Ashley Bloomfield to help answer questions in today’s epidemic response select committee told us he’s not across the details of what’s happening.
But, firing him would be admitting his irrelevance. And admitting that would be admitting the calibre of the cabinet is so weak this was the best they could do for a crucial ministry like health
And here’s the crucial thing: unlike normal times she could explain her decision directly to voters. That is an important difference right now.
Normally the Prime Minister would be grilled by journalists somewhere in parliament, then have her answers chopped up and put in stories and interpreted by members of the media.
But that’s not happening. Instead, she’s making statements an answering questions every afternoon and that’s going out live on radio and TV and websites and hundreds of thousands of us are tuning in and hearing her responses in totality
Which means she gets to explain her reasoning, repeat how disappointed she is in David Clark, tell him off some more, all without any media interpretation of that.
It’s the PM direct to the public, explaining why she made the call, and the public trusts her right now. She has a lot of goodwill, so she used it, and she used it well.