Fitness for political jobs

Two unfortunate decisions have resulted in the political spat (let's not adorn it with words that give it greater gravity) over who is likely to be the next Speaker of the House. The first was the decision to appoint the incumbent Speaker, Lockwood Smith, to the job of High Commissioner in London. This means the British post has been filled yet again by a government politician as an end-of-career perk, maintaining an unseemly tradition followed by both major parties.

Mr Smith is widely regarded as one of the best Speakers the House has had, at least in living memory. But he is unproven as a diplomat, whereas our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an ample supply of professionals trained for this work (notwithstanding Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully's thinning of their ranks over the past year or so).

The decision to send Mr Smith to London not only means we will be represented in London by a politician. It also means his job as Speaker will be filled by somebody who also must prove himself.

If Prime Minister John Key's nomination is endorsed, this somebody will be David Carter, the Minister for Primary Industries. But it seems an unfortunate choice (at first blush, anyway) because Mr Carter would much rather have stayed on to finish work he had started in the farm sector, such as water-storage and irrigation development. He has been moved on as an expedience to pave the way for Nick Smith's return in the recent Cabinet reshuffle and while he is much too gentlemanly to say so, he will be a reluctant Speaker. Whether he will be a good one. . . Well, let's wait and see. It will be a chore, if his heart isn't in it.

The political spat that was triggered by his nomination threatens to culminate in Labour challenging his becoming Mr Speaker later today. Some reports say the Opposition has misgivings about his fitness for the job. More critically, the Speaker should serve Parliament, not the Government, and Labour leader David Shearer says the Government did not consult his party over the nomination.

Mr Key might glibly counter that media conjecture about Mr Carter's nomination made consultation unnecessary. But if for no other reason than to extend a simple courtesy, a more direct consultation was advisable.