Cutting her chief executive loose might solve Education Minister Hekia Parata's immediate problem. But if National is serious about winning back goodwill from parents turned off by the mess in education, she may have to be next.
Lesley Longstone was sacrificed after a string of public relations disasters in the education portfolio, including the Novopay debacle and the Government's class-sizes backdown, which sparked a backlash so huge it sent its MPs into near meltdown.
State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie blamed a strained relationship with Ms Parata. Given the pounding Ms Parata has received, that was probably an understatement.
Seconding Peter Hughes as acting chief executive is likely to bring an end to damaging headlines. A notorious micro-manager, Mr Hughes ran a tight ship at the Ministry of Social Development.
But much of the political damage has already been done. Rightly or wrongly, Ms Parata has become the public face of education blunders.
That is disastrous for National, given that education is supposed to be one of its strong suits, particularly with National Standards - popular among parents - in its armoury.
But Prime Minister John Key is paying the price for appointing a succession of more junior ministers to the portfolio.
A Cabinet reshuffle sparked by the departure of Speaker Lockwood Smith in early 2013 may give Mr Key an opportunity to move Ms Parata into a less-sensitive portfolio and appoint someone with stronger oversight.
That would go against his usual caution on ministerial reshuffles, and his insistence yesterday that he retains full confidence in Ms Parata suggests he is not yet of a mind to do so. But another blunder under Ms Parata would be one too many.
Education has been a significant policy focus for the John Key-led government. But the education portfolio has seen a series of damaging blunders this year; class sizes, school closures in Christchurch, Novopay; the list goes on.
Lesley Longstone may have fallen on her sword (probably assisted by the State Services Commission!), but she is effectively a faceless bureaucrat. Hekia Parata is the face of the Education portfolio, and the buck stops with her.
Whilst we are supportive of John Key and National, we were frankly surprised by the words of support for Ms Parata expressed on Key's behalf yesterday. To put it into a sporting context, it is perhaps like the English football manager who has the full support of his board one day then is gone the next. Key's reported expression of confidence in the Minister may be a show of loyalty on his part, but we believe that it is misplaced loyalty.
We don't see how Hekia Parata can continue to hold the role of Education Minister without there being further significant damage to National. Irrespective of whether the stuff-ups in education are entirely her fault or not, she is the one at the top, and she is the one who is accountable. We do not believe that her position is tenable moving forward, and John Key ought to cut her loose without delay. Retaining Hekia Parata in this pivotal ministerial role will seriously damage National's chances of re-election in 2014.