Joyce's departure puts spotlight on National's generation gap

2:44 pm on 7 March 2018

Power Play - The generational power shift within National continues with the departure of campaign strategist and all-round trouble shooter Steven Joyce, writes Jane Patterson.

Steven Joyce in 2011

Steven Joyce in 2011 Photo: AFP

A dominant figure in the nine years under John Key and Bill English, Mr Joyce is the latest of National's old guard to opt for a life outside of politics.

He has gone on his own terms and would not have been humiliated by new leader Simon Bridges, having been offered a front bench position and his pick of portfolios - except the coveted finance role.

Mr Joyce is a pragmatic politician, given the hard jobs like fixing the Novopay debacle, but also one who adapted quickly to the new reality of opposition after the election.

His time has not been without controversy - he featured regularly on the US satire show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver for the dildo to the head incident, and his "pretty legal" response to threats of legal action by rapper Eminem.

National rolled the dice with its claim of a $11.7 billion hole in Labour's pre-election budget and despite being widely discredited, Mr Joyce and Mr English clung on to that claim until the end.

That warning has been steadily downgraded to warnings the government's budget will be tight come May - that is in no doubt but is quite different from a multi-billion-dollar hole. It was a strategy that raised serious questions about Mr Joyce's credibility and that of Mr English who backed him to the hilt during the campaign.

The other political issue for Mr Joyce that has been bubbling away is whether or not he had any involvement in the leaking of Winston Peters' superannuation payment, which went public in the height of the election campaign.

Mr Peters clearly thinks so as shown by his subsequent court action and comments about Mr Joyce and his "black ops" upon hearing about his imminent retirement.

But looking to the future, the next generation of National MPs are slowly but surely taking their place as the new leaders of the party.

Mr Bridges and Ms Adams have been senior and influential members of the Key and English Cabinet, but there is a shift occurring.

MPs will be weighing the loss of experience and, in Mr Joyce's case, the loss of valuable campaign experience, against the need to refresh its ranks.

This was all part of broader discussions during the leadership contest about whether the best way to beat Labour was to put up a younger leader, or stick with a "substance" candidate - one with a proven track record.

That applies more broadly to the senior team National will now present to the electorate.

While the voters responded well to Mr English versus Ms Ardern at the polling booth it was still not enough to return National to power - a reality MPs are painfully aware of as they consider the next two and half years on the opposition benches.

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