Questions asked of Key’s ninth floor management

by Jake Quinn

One of the side issues arising in the media coverage of National and Key’s sloppy handling of the Richard Worth saga is that of the effectiveness of current ninth floor political management.

Bill Ralston departs from his usual style of spending 2-3 minutes coughing up his weekly column and provides us with some rather insightful analysis, introduced like so: “What a mess. You look at the rolling political disaster of the Richard Worth scandal and it is obvious that this Government has passed through the speed wobbles I mentioned a couple of weeks ago and it’s now in danger of suffering what air crash investigators would call “catastrophic failure”.”

And John Armstrong explains: “The Beehive’s political management has improved since the debacle surrounding Christine Rankin’s appointment to the Families Commission. But there is still a sense of the Government reacting to untoward, unexpected events, rather than managing them when they happen.”

Others have also picked up ex-National Party media advisor Richard Griffen’s concern expressed on Q+A this morning that that there seems to be a lack of coordination from Prime Minister’s office around political issue management and that this becoming a serious problem for the government.

It is reasonably well accepted, from what I’ve heard, that Kevin Taylor is good at his job (he’s the Chief Press Secretary). So the issue is not so much a case of lackluster day-to-day media management, but of the higher level political management more broadly.

This responsibility falls squarely with Key’s Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson, who is Kevin’s boss.

Interestingly, questioning the efficacy of the ninth floor Chief of Staff is something quite new for the press gallery. Clark’s number two, Heather Simpson (who is now in New York working for her former boss), was unquestionably in control of day-to-day political management.

Her hands on approach to, well, almost everything, ensured that not a lot slipped through the gaps.  The trust and faith held between her and the PM provided a backbone for the Beehive which in turn gave faith to the other Ministers, MPs and their staff that the place was being run by a group who were up to the task.

Paula Oliver, before heading to Key’s office herself as a press secretary, wrote an interesting piece about Wayne Eagleson’s and Heather Simpon’s differences – its worth a read.