It does not particularly surprise me, partly because I can't see any real shift from what Labour did.
Idiot Savant says:
"As for why English is doing this, it seems he trusts neither the public service, or his newer Ministers - so he's planting personal spies in their offices to micromanage them and ensure that they "[produce] outputs that align with government priorities".
Not surprising, neither did Helen Clark. Heather Simpson was her personal appointment as Chief of Staff, but was often referred to as the "Associate Prime Minister" as Cabinet papers would go through her first, as Helen's trusted sidekick. Ministers regularly got a roasting for not reflecting "government priorities" with their papers, and that was partly because after 15 years of a public sector advising governments from Lange to Shipley (which all had a free market bent), many departments were not trusted.
It went further, Ministers appointed their own political advisors, but had to get approval for this. Michael Cullen had more than one. These political advisors were on the Ministerial office payroll, but personally selected by Ministers, and would be the primary interface many departments would have with Ministers. It was helpful when senior Ministers had large or multiple portfolios, as it meant Ministers devolved workload to the political advisors, but it also kept Junior Ministers in check.
Political advisors would co-ordinate together, and would run cabinet papers past Heather Simpson, before the Minister concerned would submit the paper to cabinet committee. Few Ministers were brave enough to submit papers themselves without Heather's approval, only the most senior Ministers could do so (Cullen and Anderton are ones known to do it).
So for Idiot Savant to say "So under National, we'll have the public service, and a parallel bureaucracy of handpicked hacks overseeing them. And all at taxpayer expense, of course." I'd say, well, just like Labour then?
He is right though in saying "If this is what National calls a "cleanup", I'd hate to see what they think is a "problem"..." unless, of course, these "purchase advisors" are temporary, and a different approach to Cabinet is now apparent.
UPDATE: The Standard is adopting its usual "see no evil" view of the Labour Party saying what National is doing is unprecedented. Labour had its own political advisors, but The Standard is willfully blind when its own political allies do something it accuses the Nats of.