Ashley Bloomfield for Deputy PM? Health official questioned over possible political career

He has successfully fronted numerous stand-ups and played a pivotal role in leading New Zealand out of the claws of COVID-19 - but Dr Ashley Bloomfield is not planning on pursuing a political career anytime soon. 

Lauded for his measured, methodical and mild-mannered leadership style, the public servant - who assumed the role of Director-General of Health in 2018 - has become something of a local healthcare hero. 

As the public-facing official liaising with the media on behalf of the Government, Bloomfield has achieved high visibility throughout New Zealand's battle with COVID-19, responsible for disseminating public health information, delivering key developments and advising Cabinet on the ongoing response. 

In an opinion piece for The Spinoff, former Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer said it had been a "long time" since a public servant had become "so well-known".

Following Labour's landslide victory in the general election on Saturday, political commentators have speculated on the possible contenders for Deputy Prime Minister. New Zealand First, which formed a coalition Government with Labour following the 2017 election, failed to meet the 5 percent threshold required to retain representation in Parliament. The provisional results show NZ First sitting at 2.7 percent of the party vote, ousting all incumbent MPs from their seats in Parliament - including party leader Winston Peters from the post as Deputy Prime Minister.

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, the Director-General of Health got a good chuckle out of host and former political editor Duncan Garner floating a possible candidate for the role - initially put forward by sports-reader, Mark Richardson.

"As this Government perhaps looks for a new Deputy Prime Minister, Mark [Richardson] has had the suggestion this morning - he looked at this and goes, 'who works really well with the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern?' And he thought about this deep and hard and long and hard as he does with all the issues, and he came up with your name," Garner quipped. 

"A Deputy Prime Minister outside of Parliament and not one that has been elected - what do you reckon?" 

Dr Bloomfield gave a typically diplomatic response to the lighthearted suggestion that he could make a good candidate for Deputy PM.
Dr Bloomfield gave a typically diplomatic response to the lighthearted suggestion that he could make a good candidate for Deputy PM. Photo credit: The AM Show

Laughing, Bloomfield said Richardson's suggestion was "interesting", and gave a typically diplomatic response.

"I'm not a politician and I don't have any aspirations to be one, I'm a public servant," he said.

"[I'm] very happy doing my job and our job, of course, is to work with whoever the Government is. 

"I'll be as interested as anyone to see who the Deputy Prime Minister is and the shape of the next Government, and I look forward to working with them."

"A very political answer, [he's] made for the role," Richardson joked.

Bloomfield's popularity has seen his likeness printed on hand towels, recreated in numerous artworks and even inked on the leg of one adoring fan.

On Sunday, Bloomfield announced a new community case of COVID-19 had been detected - a contractor who had worked at the ports in Auckland and Taranaki within the last two weeks. The latest development, however, looks to have been caught early, as the man was tested for the virus the same day he developed symptoms. Close contacts were quickly identified and are now isolating and awaiting test results.