National reshuffle: Rising star Erica Stanford is protege of Nikki Kaye as rejig losers lick wounds

Rising star of the National Party reshuffle, Erica Stanford, is a protege of Nikki Kaye – the former politician who defeated Jacinda Ardern twice in a general election contest.

But MPs who tumbled down the rankings in yesterday’s rejig were not so happy.

Michael Woodhouse, a finance spokesman under Judith Collins and close to her rival Simon Bridges, fell 14 places after being on the front bench for more than five years.

If he’d been demoted just another three places, he’d be out of the top 20 – unranked in the new leader Chris Luxon’s lexicon.

“I’m pretty disappointed, to be honest. I can’t deny that. But that’s politics,” Woodhouse said yesterday evening after learning he was ranked 18th.

“I’ll perform to the best of my ability and if Chris sees merit in me in another reshuffle, that will be a matter for him. But all I can control is how hard I work and how effective I am in those new portfolios.”

Woodhouse said Luxon had to make room for others to gain promotions.

“But it’s a pretty big slip backwards,” he added. “You dust yourself off, you get back in the game.”

Luxon took over last week after Judith Collins was deposed. Collins, concerned about a rumoured Bridges coup attempt, struck first by stripping Bridges of his portfolios.

But dredging up a lewd remark from 2016 as pretext for eviscerating Bridges backfired.

Collins told the Herald yesterday: “It’s not my day. It’s the leader’s day. I’m just happy to be part of the team.”

As well as navigating the turbulent political landscape, Collins said she was busy shifting house.

She fell 18 places, to 19, but is still in the shadow Cabinet.

Todd McClay – who dropped from 6th ranking to outside shadow Cabinet – did not want to comment.

One of the reshuffle’s major winners was Erica Stanford, East Coast Bays MP.

She said the new National Party leader phoned her on Sunday night. She leapt 18 places to seventh and acquired the education portfolio.

“It’s a huge honour. Chris Luxon called me last night with the news,” she told the Herald. “It is a big promotion for me up the ranks.”

Stanford said behind the scenes, experienced MPs had helped her over the years – including a former Auckland Central MP who was Ardern’s rival in Auckland Central in 2011 and 2014. Kaye beat Ardern both times in the marginal seat. In 2008 Ardern had stood in the Waikato seat, which was a safe National seat.

“I’m also really grateful to have some pretty heavy hitters, the likes of Nikki Kaye. She was my mentor.”

Kaye was deputy leader in the short-lived Todd Muller ascendancy last year but quit politics after Muller stepped down as leader and was replaced by Collins.

Stanford said she was happy National’s shadow cabinet included veteran MP Gerry Brownlee – who was once Collins’ deputy.

Brownlee is rarely in the spotlight now but was advising new MPs, and crucial to National’s team, Stanford said.

Stanford retained the immigration portfolio – fertile ground for attacking the Government, as people and businesses grappled with the Covid-19 response’s impact on travel.

She said some trades and industries were clearly in desperate need of more staff.

“We need to have a close working relationship with different sectors, across different regions, to get a good idea of where the skill gaps are.”

Former leader Todd Muller has resurrected his career and revealed he will run at the next election.

It’s barely five months since Muller bad-mouthed his colleague Harete Hipango to a news outlet, was caught out, and compelled to say he would not seek re-election.

Hipango told the Herald: “Todd’s issues are his, they’re not mine”.

She extended an olive branch of sorts.

“I don’t have any feelings or sentiment towards Todd, as long as we contribute in a way we pull together.”

If the mid-year Muller melodrama was bad, last week’s antics with Collins seeking to derail Bridges were hardly more dignified.

“It was bad enough that obviously, and notably, there were members who were leaking information to the media,” Hipango said.

She indicated she had sympathy for Collins and former deputy leader Dr Shane Reti.

“They were dealing with shifting sands the whole time.”

The new National Party line-up will face the Government at Parliament for Question Time this afternoon.

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