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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Rehabilitating the National Party – Part II: Bill English tries to jump the Liminal Gap

 In our last post we looked at why the 46% National currently enjoys in the political polls was not worth dookie and in reality is little more than a fig leaf (or band aid) covering up the issues that bedevil the party in the wake of the recent election loss to the Labour/NZ First and Green coalition.

So in this post lets rip aside that fig leaf (or rip off that band-aid) aside and see what turgid horrors lie beneath*.

The National Party, as we know and love it, is now starting to seethe with rebellion, if the media can be believed, in the wake of the recent election loss (although to be fair they did not loose the election they lost the coalition negotiations - but more on that next post) and those rumbling are becoming very public with discussions about how long Bill English will remain as leader.

Of course National has always conducted it's business behind closed doors (unlike Labour) and the means and the process of leadership selection (be it drawing names from a hat, blood sacrifice or some other method) remain mostly unknown to us except for it seems to boil down to numbers plus influence.

What we do know is that despite its facade of unity National is in fact comprised of various factions which fight a shadow war with each other for both control and leadership of the party. However these conflicts have not always remained in the shadows and have often spilled over into the public area on more than one occasion; usually in the form of one side leaking emails and documents to the public and media which in the end makes both both parties look bad.

For example the information and documents which Nicky Hagar used to write The Hollow Men in 2005 came from six National party insiders; or the Collin's/Joyce spat from 2012, which again saw embarrassing details and info leaked; or the counterrevolution against political adviser Simon Lusk in 2013 (where Lusk tried to exterminate the less right-wing elements of the party); and Todd Barclay scandal in 2017, where the political rupture was so severe and public it lead to ex-tobacco lobbyist Barclay leaving politics and destroyed Bill English’s reputation as an “honest man”.

All of these, and other lesser moments, show that National is not the broad church it paints itself as under that roof of 46% popularity but is instead riven with infighting and rivalries on par with the inner working of the Third Reich**. For example, John Key, as supreme leader, utilized his own Fuhrerprinzip to keep the various lesser members of the party competing with one another, and not plotting against him, while steering the overall direction of the party during his time.

And with the election now over and National facing a possible nine years in opposition there is nothing left to hold back the various factions from squabbling for the top job and taking control of the party.

However, before we delve too far into that conflict let’s take a moment to note that almost all of the last 20 years of National party info that has been released to the media shows that  the core of this struggle is between those who want to take the party further to the Right (making it more like ACT) and those who want to steer a more moderate/centrist course or, to be clearer, those who want to continue the Right Wing reforms National has championed for the last 30 years and those who see the damage that following such a path has done to the long term chances of the party (and, in their estimation, possibly NZ).

Not sure what that damage is? Well read this link from the Standard, it’s there in black in white all the way back in 2012. National is now the entirety of the political right*** and its economic views and opinions favor its rich-list supporters and MPs (who are often very rich as well) over anyone else and its only been a concerted Right-Wing smear campaign against the left (ala Dirty Politics) and Labours own ineptitude which has kept National as a viable political contender when inequality, the Housing Hernia and FukYoo Politix are rising by the day.

But if that analysis is too heavy for you look at it like this: In the age of personality and centrist politics (which we are in now but possibly not for much longer) ideology prevents people from viewing a political party with an opposing ideology positively. And if that party's ideology (be it left or right) is unpalatable, then your average swing voter is not going to swing that way which means that any voter with a shred of left or centrist thought will veer away from National and towards anything else (be it Labour, the Greens or, heavens forbid, NZ First).

And now, with the election over, the knives are again being sharpened, the struggle for where the party is heading has stated up again and this time it’s Bills Head that’s being lined up, like John the Baptist, for the platter.

Under Jolly John Key, the party moderates were in charge as after the disaster of the Brash Coup in 2003 and Nationals continued support for the death camp march of free market reform (see the Hollow Men) the party was headed for meltdown as it was reduced to playing the racism card via Don Brash’s now infamous Orewa speech, and while it produced a polling boost it was still ultimately far too ugly for the general electorate (hence National loosing the 2005 election) and it was only the astounding political popularity of Key which carried the party through 2008 and for the next nine years.

And when Mr J quit  in December of 2016 the spell he had cast over the party and its factions was broken and it was only Key's personal intervention before Bill English was anointed, by his holiness himself, before stepping up as caretaker PM until after the election. 

And I say "caretaker" because anyone who thought otherwise was only ever fooling themselves (and possibly Bill) as the moment John Key stepped aside the various factions in National started jockeying for power again only to be brought together for the sake of pre-election unity and the promise of another three years in power if they win.

So now, with the election over (and lost), the battle for the soul of National has resumed with a vengence and in the transition period (the liminal gap*5 if you will) between government and opposition; between moderate social conservatism and extreme economic fundamentalism; between the rabidly high personal popularity of John Key buoying up the party and the dullard antics of English and the rest of the gang of five*4 dragging the party down; there is this space, this time, between the end of one era and the start of another, where anything is possible and nothing is set.

In this zero space between one paradigm ending (that of the Key years) and another starting (take your pick) there is a power vacuum and as we all know nature abhors a vacuum and so apparently do National party MPs.

Key was, no pun intended, the keystone of National party strategy for the last decade and his mana was such that they stuck his face on everything, making him not only the face of the party but in essence the party itself. It was as if Ronald McDonald stopped being the mascot and now ran the company lock, stock and barrel.

Now, without Key, the same problems that were boiling up under Brash are back coming to the surface again and the only thing holding them back in the wake of Key leaving was the promise from English to get them back into power in the 2017 election.

Well that did not happen and only fools are betting on English being around in 2020 because to do that he has to get across that “gap” that I mentioned before and to make it safely across the liminality gap of National Party and NZ Politics English would have to carry out the kind of born again, Jesus rebirth that few, if any, politicians can do: I mean who does he think he is: Winston Peters?

Long story short, English is neither the face of the extreme right wing of National nor the kinder gentler moderate face of National (given how badly he has been tarred as a liar and general political waste of space in the last 12 months) and sooner or later the new paradigm will coalesce into the next phase of National and English, nothing more than the sad shadow of John Key, will need to be replaced by either another economic acolyte (ala Don Brash) or centrist (ala John Key).

Bill English has always been portrayed in the media as a “safe pair of hands” but safe pairs of hands are not what leadership is all about and with predators like Judith Collins circling (and my National party source, T, confirms that such is the case) it’s only a matter of time before one of the pretenders to the throne plucks up the nerve and the numbers to make their move.

We can discuss the possible leadership issue in the next post but no matter what the future of National is Bill English is not it, as he has neither the super-star popularity of Key or Ardern nor the political stones (or the political credibility) to be leader of the party in opposition.

And recent coverage in the media has summed it up nicely so I will just say “what she said” when it comes to assessing why it’s better for English to go now, while the parties fortunes are still high rather than piss it away, like he did in 2002, by refusing to see the inevitable.

Thus I end here with this quote from Oliver Cromwell who, I think, sums it up best:

"You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

*-And both definitions of the word can apply in this context
**-un-tense your fingers and go read about how the Reich was run before you git pissy about this comparison
***-unless you include ACT, but who would do that? Oh wait, National does/did (see their recent idea to clone itself).
*4-Brownlee, Collins, Smith, Joyce and Bennett
*5-I did not make this concept up but finding a source to attribute to it was not possible so i will just admit that here


  1. Well I'll admit it seems your gut got it right this time.

    Does it have any insight into who will be the next National leader?

  2. My Gut is writing a post about it which should be up tomorrow. But if you want a teaser, think Labour in the last nine years plus surprise extras.