Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a point of thanking the Director-general of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, for his service over the Covid-19 lockdown. She described working with the health official “as a real honour”.
“I consider NZ to be very lucky to have a public servant of Dr Bloomfield’s calibre leading the health response. His background in public health has meant I consider NZ to be among those countries who are a lucky to have the expertise in leading the response: one that considers the health and wellbeing of NZers in every respect.“
It’s a tribute most folk think well deserved, coming as it did on the last day of level four of the lockdown. And Bloomfield has earned international acclaim.
The Guardian newspaper, among others, has provided rave reviews of him. Its NZ correspondent reported he has become the unlikely hero of NZ’s coronavirus crisis, earning thousands of fans online and being nominated as New Zealander of the Year.
Yet the depth of the PM’s tribute may have generated an element of apprehension in one of those who – until a few weeks ago – was thought to be in Ardern’s inner circle.
The glowing Bloomfield tribute was in stark contrast to something we recall Ardern saying about the Minister of Health, Dr David Clark.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reiterated that under normal circumstances she would have sacked Health Minister David Clark.
Earlier today Dr Clark offered his resignation to the prime minister after revealing that he took a trip to the beach during the first weekend of the alert level 4 Covid-19 lockdown.
Speaking at the Covid-19 media conference this afternoon, Ardern said what Dr Clark did was wrong and there were no excuses.
“But my priority above all else is our collective fight against Covid-19,” she said.
With Parliament due to resume next week, Dr Clark is set to be a primary target of the Opposition when the House reviews how the government has handled the response to the crisis.
He was in effect confined to barracks after his mountain-bike and beachcombing escapades during the lockdown, demoted to number 20 in Cabinet.
Had it not been a distraction from what the government was seeking to achieve in eliminating the coronavirus, he could have been unceremoniously booted out of Cabinet.
Having confessed to being a “bit of an idiot” , Clark might find it hard to rehabilitate his political career, let alone hold on to his seat in Cabinet.
Yet in defining his future role the Prime Minister could land herself on the horns of a dilemma.
Should she show the kindness for which she is renowned and retain him for the remainder of the term? Or dismiss him?
Firing Clark would be a tacit admission that he fell short of the capacity expected of a Cabinet minister, and particularly one holding a senior portfolio – not something you want to admit in the run-up to a general election. (How many other duds are there in your team?).
Besides, no other handy candidate is available to step into such a key portfolio.
But if he is given a second chance, he will be liability for Labour through the election campaign.
Parliamentary observers will be keen to spot where Clark is re-located from his front-bench seat when the House resumes sittings. Who will want to be his desk companion?