National's opponents beware. This week's shock sackings of Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson from the Cabinet provided instant and ample proof of one surefire thing: the authentic version of John Key is back and very much in charge. The Prime Minister most definitely means business in 2013.
Utterly unapologetic about axing steadfastly loyal colleagues, Key displayed no discernible symptoms redolent of the occasionally out-of-sorts, at times seemingly indifferent and abnormally memory-challenged character who occupied Premier House through 2012.
This week witnessed the return of the composed, confident, communicative and assertive Key who, before last year's string of calamities, had carried all before him.
At times during 2012 - particularly with regard to his and his officials' farcical stumbling over Kim Dotcom - Key seemed to be playing something akin to Russian roulette with his prime ministership.
He seemed to deliberately dig himself into ever deeper political holes in order to test his wherewithal in extracting himself from them.
The conclusion drawn from this ultimately self-destructive behaviour was that he was bored or tiring of the job and its unrelenting demands.
That would no longer seem to be the case. This week's Cabinet reshuffle was clearly the product of some considerable thought over the summer break by Key and his advisers.
There was a sharp intake of breath by journalists at Tuesday's press conference as they realised the expected minimalist reshuffle necessitated by the change in Parliament's Speaker was something more akin to a Night of the Long Knives.
Heatley and Wilkinson never saw the axe coming. But then there was no reason for them to be wary.
Even a Prime Minister as openly scornful and mocking of ministerial incompetence as Helen Clark never sacked anyone for failing to do their job for fear she would make unnecessary enemies.
While hardly setting the world on fire, neither Heatley nor Wilkinson was making a mess of their respective portfolios.
We certainly weren't expecting as much change as Key delivered. But it is change for the better, and change delivered with 2014 in mind. New Cabinet Ministers Simon Bridges and Nikki Kaye will bring energy to the Cabinet, and with a solid background in health management, Michael Woodhouse will be a safe pair of hands. Woodhouse has the opportunity to press for elevation to Cabinet when the inevitable round of pre-election retirements is announced next year.
We're especially pleased with Nikki Kaye's promotion. Our Auckland business will soon be relocating to premises within the boundaries of the Auckland Central electorate, and even though we are not residents there, we will welcome the opportunity to consult with her where necessary. Ms Kaye made her name by speaking out against a policy that she disagreed with, and it says much both for her ability and for John Key not being hamstrung by "conventional" political thinking that she will take a seat at the Cabinet table next week.
But what of Hekia Parata? Armstrong continues:
Unlike Hekia Parata. The Education Minister, however, has an important ally in Bill English. Key has also invested a fair amount of political capital in her ultimately being a success in her extremely challenging portfolio.
The highly dysfunctional and teacher union-driven Ministry of Education has instead become the scapegoat within National for her mistakes. Add the dynamic of Parata being one of the few high-ranking Maori within National and it becomes clear why she survived.
We reckon that although Key has lauded Ms Parata in public, he will undoubtably have left her in no doubt that she is running out of chances. Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley have been fired after four years in their roles; Hekia Parata has held the Education portfolio for little more than one year. If there is not a significant improvement in her performance once a new Secretary for Education is appointed, we reckon that John Key will be as ruthless towards her as he has been to the sacked Ministers. Key's placing of Steven "Mr Fix-it" Joyce alongside Ms Parata as Associate Minister may yet prove to be her salvation.
And as Armstrong concludes his piece, he notes a significant advantage that governments enjoy:
On that score, Key's economic scene-setter speech in Auckland yesterday focused on the need to attract investment - local or foreign - as the necessary precursor to creating jobs.
National's argument is that while Labour and the Greens talk about investment creating jobs, those two parties do their utmost to block it.
Key also cheekily flagged significant alterations to the modern apprenticeship scheme. Labour views the scheme as very much its territory. Key's speech was thus designed to spike at least part of David Shearer's address tomorrow to Labour's annual summer school.
Like Key, Labour's leader had sought to get his political year off to a flying start. The latter also views the mid-term year as the critical time to make Labour relevant again to a wider cross-section of voters than was the case in 2011.
But - as yesterday's announcement by Key on apprenticeships showed - National has one advantage. As one Beehive staffer puts it: Governments can do things. Oppositions can only talk of doing things.
Expect National to be doing lots of things this year. One thing is for sure: the unhappy fate of Heatley and Wilkinson serves as a gruesome reminder to the rest of the Cabinet of what will happen to ministers who do not pull their weight.
This is a critical year both for the Government and for Opposition parties. David Shearer may have built some momentum towards the end of 2012, but John Key seems to have grabbed the advantage in the week before Parliament resumes.