The initial press releases from Richard Worth and John Key left many people puzzled. They both stated he had resigned as a minister for personal reasons, but gave no hint of what that meant.
The sad reality for Dr Worth is that there were so many things it could have been. It could have been about his Indian business dealings. It could have been about the high profile defamation case he is a witness in. It could have been about his visit to a crime victim, despite knowing the assailants’ family. It could have been about his Korean business dealings. Or it could have been something to do with a woman.
If you are a minister who is forced to resign, you ideally want everyone to be amazed and surprised, and say how they are stunned and never saw it coming. You don’t want them speculating in a multi-choice fashion as to what the actual reason was.
Richard Worth was seen as a high flier to many when he entered Parliament. He was the chairman of top law firm Simpson Grierson, and had been the National Party’s northern regional policy chairman. He was thought to be able to do as well as classmates Simon Power and Katherine Rich who also entered in 1999.
Worth held off Rodney Hide by 1908 votes in 1999. In 2002 his majority grew to 5619 over Labour’s Di Nash with Hide in third place. And as everyone knows he then lost the seat in 2005 to Hide . To be fair this was mainly the result of strategic voting by National supporters but some felt Worth had not performed strongly enough.
As an Opposition spokesperson, Worth never fulfilled his potential. No major policy work, no scandals broken, no particular vigour. Many pointed out that his attention seemed to be focused on getting his doctorate. So Don Brash told him in 2005 that if National won, he would be Speaker, not a minister.
Brash didn’t win in 2005 but John Key did in 2008. Lockwood Smith became Speaker – an appointment that ironically at the time was seen as a demotion for Smith. Smith has gone on to enjoy much higher esteem as Speaker than he would have back in cabinet.
Worth ended up not in cabinet, but as a minister outside cabinet. It was never likely he would make cabinet. PM Key used his ministerial spots outside cabinet to place MPs whose seniority was such that they couldn’t be left on the backbench, but who were likely to be a minister for one term only, and be likely to retire at the next election. A sort of halfway house between cabinet and retirement.
Worth is a very bright lawyer. If you talk legal issues with him, he has a first class knowledge and could have contributed a lot in the right portfolios. As well as his PhD, he has an MBA and a master of jurisprudence.
But what he did not have is a very good political antennae. He chose to go camel riding rather than attend a Maori Battalion service in Egypt. A smart political brain would tell you that was risky.
Likewise he happily represented the government of Monaco as its Counsel and sat on the board of the Prada America’s Cup Challenge. Neither of these things are bad or wrong – but they are potentially unwise for an MP. That political survival instinct just was not there.
We see this again with the allegations passed on by Phil Goff about his conversations with a young married Labour Party activist. The allegations are that he made romantic overtures to her, seemingly in exchange for potential board appointments. Now we have yet to hear Worth’s side of the story, but it is another very bad look.
Worth might not be the first MP to try and use his office to big note and impress a potential romantic conquest, if that is what happened. But what is especially naïve or stupid is that she was a Labour Party activist – you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to work out that is a bad person for a National MP to be hitting on (if he was). As one acquaintance quipped to me – “National MPs are meant to be offering jobs and sex to National Party activists, not bloody Labour Party members.” A somewhat bad taste quip, but is it any surprise it ended up with Phil Goff.
Goff to his credit raised the issue privately with Key. This is not an uncommon thing. I know of half a dozen cases myself where cross-party communications have occurred regarding an MP needing some counseling. Key’s chief of staff put the allegations to Worth, who not only denied them, but reportedly offered to swear an affidavit denying them, and that if they were publicized he would sue for defamation. Key relayed that back to Goff and the matter lay there – he denied it but implicitly there would be no further contact anyway. At the time it was probably case closed for both leaders as Worth no doubt stopped texting the woman in question.
Then of course we have the issue which is now a criminal investigation. Even without knowing the facts, there is enough to once again detect the lack of political judgment from Worth. He was under police investigation and he didn’t tell the prime minister. That by itself is sackable.
In the next few days the exact nature of the allegations will probably be made public, and charges may be laid. Even if they are not, PM Key has made it clear that even without criminal offending, the private conduct has been woeful enough to mean he can never return to the ministry.
This is quite a change from past practice. Clark often recycled sacked ministers such as Ruth Dyson and Lianne Dalziel who both returned after being sacked for drunk driving and lying respectively. Key is not only ruling out Worth’s return one day, but has hinted strongly he should resign as an MP.
Until the exact nature of the criminal allegations are known, it is premature to say he will definitely go as an MP. But I have to say it is hard to imagine he will ever attend a National caucus meeting again.