Easing back into the year + Parata & Sharples

Two leading politicians are staying put. Risky stuff. And what I'm doing next...

Look at the time, is it 2013 already? I've hardly given thought to anything since Christmas except what needs to be done to keep the kids happy and what jobs need to be done around the house (when we weren't in Onemana or Gisborne). But here are two brief thingamies to kick off the year...

First, I'm starting a new job this year, producing TV3's new primetime current affairs debate programme, The Vote. It should be a blast and it'll be great to work with Duncan Garner and, again, with Guyon Espiner.

Regulars here will know that I've produced (with Maryanne Ahern) Q+A on One since its birth four years ago. It's been superb, but also exhausting. So I'm looking forward to weekends again! But Q+A goes on with some new folk – although Maryanne, Shane Taurima and others will still be involved and will keep doing a grand job, I'm sure. What's really exciting is that before I left the programmers at TVNZ agreed to repeat Q+A late on Sunday evenings. It's not primetime, heck it's even well past the time you should eat cheese if you want to avoud bad dreams! But it's another chance for people to watch and record that rarest TV beast – tough politics interviewing.

The Vote will be something new – a big event every month in which Guyon and Duncan lead teams debating the big issues of the moment. It'll be unashamedly smart, but it'll be something new, what you might call competitive current affairs. There will be a winner and a loser, decided by the studio audience and people voting from home (hence the name). So the drama comes from both the topic and the format.

But best of all it's a chance to spark real national conversation in this niched world. The hope is that folk will sit around at home – perhaps whole families and flats! – and join in the debate. Whatever the topic, viewers will get the best, most passionate arguments that can be made. There will be no lazy assumptions that everybody thinks one way or another, but rather a strong, compelling case made for and against whatever the topic may be. So, fingers crossed.

The othert thingamy is to share some rough thoughts on the early fizz bubbling up in politics this week. In short, two people are staying where they are, much to the frustration of many others.

John Key has finally moved off the fence and committed to Hekia Parata remaining as Education Minister, which will worry some in the party. Her performance last year was the low point for National. Kim Dotcom, slow recovery anger in Christchurch, Opposition attacks (such as they were) and even Key's own weary evasiveness didn't match education in terms of damage done to the party's electoral prospects. Of course political popularity usually works like erosion, slowing slipping away a few pebbles at a time. But if there was a storm to end National's John Key-led honeymoon – a second term tipping point – it was the class size debacle.

Parata is smart, photogenic and an important part of National's message that it's not just the preserve of rich white men. Indeed, it's interesting to ponder if she'd still be in the job if she was a rich white man. Being the poll-watcher that he is, I'd assume Parata still polls ok with women voters. Or, at least, his appeal with women is strong enough to take the risk. Because risk it is. Parata has her blood in the water now, is notoriously prickly and Key's assertion that she's staying because of her communication skills is, well, questionable to me.

The other stayer in Pita Sharples. The first thing to always say about Sharples is that he is one of the great Maori leaders of his generation and a remarkable man. Having said that, the next point is to ask what on earth he is thinking.

He has been a reluctant spokesman for some time, so it's curious why he wouldn't have been happy negotiating some senior role which meant influence but not leadership. Te Ururoa Flavell has been working hard to earn his chance, but was clearly worn out by the end of last year. He was openly questioning his future in politics then, so now he must be looking at the jobs sites pretty closely now that his path to leadership seems blocked. Sharples knows that, so what's he playing at?

Maybe he relishes more power with Turia gone? Maybe he has a female coleader in mind who he things is the perfect foil for him? But the reality is that the party is struggling to win support and the brand looks as tired as its leaders.

Some have proposed that this is bad news for National. If the Maori Party remains at no more than two percent, it offers little as a coalition partner. But to be frank the Maori Party offers National little succour any which way. With Sharples remaining, it's hard to see any surge in the polls. But if Flavell was to take over, he would likely lead the party more to the left anyway.

Key must hope that Sharple can find a few more percent and maintain his conservative instinct. Meanwhile Labour may want to do some more serious courting, given that it's been Turia's personal anti-Labour stance that has stood most strongly between those two parties.

Sharples' decision is hard to comprehend from the party's point of view, but let's not do any writing off just yet. 2014 could be close enough that even at three perecent, the Maori Party and its leaders could have significant sway.