The parliamentary speaker’s chair will be vacant early next year when Lockwood Smith is posted to our High Commision in London, and though to say speculation about who will be our next caped crusader is feverish would be an overstatement, there is a degree of jockeying for the position among National’s seniors.
Not all the jockeying, however, is aimed at securing the position. As a result of a flying wedge interrogation operation I conducted at one of those inside-the-beltway Wellington parties the other night with two fellow senior members of the press gallery, I can be reasonably certain that the front-runner is not the widely-tipped David Carter, but Maurice Williamson. By a process of gall, guile, charm and flattery, we have reliably deduced from our research that, while both ministers have been sounded out for the role, one is having a renewed lease of life in his portfolios and wants to keep them, while the other gentleman, not to put too fine a point on it, has not.
If I just happened to add that Carter is minister for primary industries, and spearheading the government’s drive for more intensive farming, and for local government, subject of a strapping reform bill, and accordingly intimately involved in the perennially complex issues around the Resource Management Act, and that Williamson, outside Cabinet, has building, statistics, land information and customs, and is not spearheading anything in particular, that might give readers a gentle pointer in the right direction.
Not, as a regular parliamentary sketch-writer, that I’m self-interested or anything, but a Williamson speakership would guarantee a lively and entertaining parliament, as the Pakuranga MP has a ready and anarchic sense of humour, and what Dr Brian Edwards likes to call the performance gene.
He’s understood to be very enthusiastic about the idea –as he is about much in life, the early-90s nickname Tigger having stuck fast. Unless he affects a personality change, he would be the most colourful presiding officer in living memory, and would likely build on Lockwood Smith’s change of the role, to a less legalistic style of applying the standing orders.
Williamson would also, again not to put too fine a point on it, not necessarily need a microphone as all past speakers have done.
The only questions are: how Williamson might manage to keep a straight face during the arcane daily ritual whereby the speaker is escorted at funereal pace by liveried officials carrying the ceremonial mace into the House each day; and how might the former Air New Zealand IT wallah part with his beloved iPad for the hours he would be required to spend in the chair?
However, other speakership possibilities are experienced assistant/deputy speaker MPs, Eric Roy and Lindsay Tisch. It’s not clear whether either has yet been shoulder-tapped to express an interest in the job, but if not, at least in the latter case, it may be because the MP’s short stature would require him to over-use the speakerly warning,”I’m on my feet!”
There is at least one other wild card contender, who falls into the realm of a would-be poacher-turned-gamekeeper. No, not John Banks – that I know of, anyway – but watch this space.
The gig comes with a pleasant, balconied flat in parliament buildings, an annual world trip leading an MPs’ delegation, and power with, at least notionally, no real limits. Theoretically, a speaker can cause someone to be incarcerated indefinitely for contempt of Parliament, but despite sore temptation over the decades, none has run amok.