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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Rehabilitating the National Party – Part Three: The question is not who will replace Bill English…

NZ's very own game of thrones begins now!

I would like to think that it was my recent post about Bill English that made him see the light and decide to quit the leadership of National now rather than waiting while polling slips and the greater problems behind him continue to fester but I would only be deluding myself.

It would also be fanciful to think that the media frenzy just before the recent party retreat also had anything to do with English hanging up his spurs because, as we have noted previously, the current leadership challenge for who gets to front National started the nano second joking John Key quit politics in December 2016 and English got to be caretaker PM (while Key ran off laughing all the way to ASB bank) only by virtue of Keys endorsement.

However Kang and Kodos to Bill English for going now rather than dragging out the inevitable as this shows that either Bill was big enough to see the writing on the wall or smart enough to realize that if push came to shove he would have to follow orders and fall on his sword, whether he liked it or not. Like him or not English has always been a loyal soldier in the National party ranks.

But let’s not slide our tongues down the back of Bills trousers just yet, as while it was expected that he might get some kind words from his own party and even some opposition politicians in the wake of his announcement, some of the talk of Bill being a “great” politician coming up in the media bordered on hagiography and I vomited in my mouth when I read that “even more so than his predecessor, Sir John, English will leave a huge hole in National”; Tracy Watkins how could you?

An honest assessment of Bill English’s legacy would be that he was the calm cool technician of the National Party for the nine years of National being in government. He was Adolf Eichmann to John Key’s Reinhard Heydrich; a capable efficient second banana that made sure that the paperwork was always in order so that Key could gallivant around working his folksy magic on the public and the media.

But second banana he was and second banana he was always going to be; his leadership of the party in the early 2000s showed he did not have the mettle to lead in opposition, fend off leadership challenges (and by proxy retain the faith of the National party board) and it was only because he was a safe stopgap PM, who could keep the various party factions at bay in the wake of Key bolting, that he got the job in 2016.

In reality, Bill English was never able to get out from the gargantuan shadow that Key cast as (unlike Key) he could not glib his way out of a sticky situation or shake his media mojo and distract from the real issue. This most painfully showed when Bill desperately took to social media in the lead up to the 2017 election in a series of ill-conceived promo spots that can only be described as the political equivalent of s**t mist being sprayed on your romantic meal by some evil, dead faced, ghoul in a business suit and badly coordinated tie*. They were supposed to replicate the magic of Keys own media moments (think Key planking, eating a hot-dog, his various radio “skits” etc) but instead they stank.

However we are not here today to discuss those now dead and buried or even those, who now having plunged the knives into English’s back, are lining up to like contenders for the Iron Throne.

Despite what the media is saying with its “who would you vote for: National Party leaders” poll (and at the time of writing the last one I looked at had Judith Collins out in front at 24%) the most pressing problem for National goes well beyond who will be the next leader, although Audrey Young of the NZ Herald is right in declaring what’s to come as a “brutal blood-bath” but that’s really stating the obvious while Bryan Gould (also writing for the Herald) is probably closer to the mark by saying that National needs to “come to terms with the election result” but again that’s still stating the obvious and only really skimming the surface of what’s going on with National at this time.

As I stated in my previous post about the Party, what’s “going on” in National is less a struggle for leadership and more a fully-fledged fight for what form the National Party is going to be, not just for the 2020 election but for the larger future.

If the party is going to move forward into the future it’s going to have to deal with the past, not just the election loss (although heads are going to roll over that to be sure) but the painful comedown from 30 year ideological high of free-market orthodoxy (where National got heroically stoned on Neo-liberalism and ran around like someone on ecstasy for the first time shouting "I love capitalism" again and again and again) which helped to create sludgy toxic rivers; the unsustainable white gold rush of dairy farming; the housing hernia; disgraceful child poverty; the bungled Christchurch rebuild; Tourism as a substitute for actual economic progress; selling of NZ like it’s a fire sale; Chinese spies infiltrating the party; increasing inequality and all the other dirty, greasy stains which have marred New Zealand for the last decade**.

On the scale of these issues the rather trivial matter of who is going to be the face of the franchise pales in comparison.

And at the core of any decision making that effects the National party is not the MPs or the Public but "the nine" figures who make up the National Party Board (hereafter known as the Nazgul***) and the more shadowy network of lobbyists and vested interests which have infiltrated the party over the last 15 years.

As it sits today, National is organised, structured and run like a corporate business with a board of directors (The Nazgul) running things on behalf of the shareholders (the larger business interests, via lobbyists), MPs as management and rank and file employees (depending on position) and with the public as the paying customers. And if we consider English to have been the temporary CEO after Key left, its now clear that the shareholders are looking at the balance sheet, noting the declining returns under English and have given him the push (with the attendant Golden Handjob as severance) before advertising the now vacant position.

This sounds somewhat hyperbolic I know, but it is essentially true as both my National party contact, T, and consummate Wellington insider (and good friend) Q, have confirmed this while I have heard similar with my own ears from members of National themselves (after having infiltrated two National Party soiree's in the last few years*4). 

Unlike Labours slanted/weighted party vote process, National run a performance based ship where the primary prerequisite to be captain is a certain ruthlessness to be leader and "not to run the ship aground"*5.

So the question is not "who will replace Bill English" but "who can sail National out of the political doldrums"; and for any potential captain to chart a course out of the same political Sargasso Sea that Labour was adrift in for eight years they will need a map showing the way home.

The problem for National is that there is a lot of Terra-incognita on that map and much of that great dark unknown comes from the position National has sailed itself into by relying on John Key (and his dark magiks) to cover for its larger issues rather than building up its policy or personnel. National now finds itself politically and ideologically isolated on the Right, bereft of any real policy prescription which is not "more of the same" and with grade-Z monkey meat as many of its senior MPs (the Gang of Five).

And in some ways National having a leadership selection based on sheer merit, rather than a Labour style weighted popularity contest, may actually prove better and quicker at getting the right candidate for a job that Labour struggled to do for eight years (and four leaders) before Jacinda ascended to role.

Thus the decision of the National Party board will not be a "who leads" but "which direction"; further to the Right or continue to steer a moderate course, and the process of "who" gets to chart that direction is not based on popularity but on the strength of their application (with attached business plan to rescue the declining share price) for the "recent vacancy" of leader of the National Party.

But as we are in a liminal*6 gap (as described in a previous post) nothing is set at this time and there is a good crop of contenders lining up, with a range of values on display and all will be stating their case to The Nazgul for why they should be the new leader of the National party.

And once the direction is decided the pieces will quickly fall into place as to the "who leads?" question.

It is worth warning here that there are no quick fix solutions for the situation National is now in, it may have to let "nature take its course" for at least one election to battle-test the new captain and crew before they are really ready to compete on the hustings and undo the damage that has been done by the eight years of John Key (and the one year of Bill English).

We will discuss the contenders in our next post but its important to make clear that National cant just change its face and be done with it, it needs to embrace a greater change to get across the gap and out of the doldrums its sailed itself into and that change will be decided by the party board which will then influence the choice of leader. John Key, for all his guile, was just a change of face and part of his legacy is the toxic leftovers from the early 2000s which should have been cleaned up by now but which instead, have continued to fester and sour the party (think how its now become the only political party on the Right wing of NZ politics). 

So next post we get to discuss the actual candidates for Leader, including the Gang of Five, Nationals liberal faction (yes they have one but not as you might imagine) and the young-bloods who are aspiring to be the next John Key or Jacinda Ardern.

Until then, Vootie!

*-And as a aspiring fashion maven myself I usually found the suits and ties English wore just a little too “off” in the Beau Brummell sense of the word to look good. Despite being able to afford good tailoring English often seemed to look like a Southland cow-cocky arriving in the big smoke for the first time to my eyes
**- although if we are being honest it’s really the last 30 years
***-read the link if you have not figured out why yet
*4-I will say this about National, they put on better parties than Labour and have far better food, including an amazing seafood selection
*5-An actual quote from a somewhat drunken member of the party to me on how things are
*6-My spellchecker keeps trying to change this to "criminal" in a rather overt display of synchronicity 


  1. English will go down in history as a latter day Jack Marshall to John Key's Holyoake.

  2. That he is.

    I'm letting this post slide as its a good point but you still need to change your user name.

  3. We must be rid of that vacuous idiot Adern as soon as we can, most older nen would rather bang Judith crusher than the sexless Adern as well. And as well I still owe you $50 [ with inflation $60 ] please give name of charity.

    1. Lets keep things classy here Paul and the name of the charity I gave a while back - The Christchurch City Mission.

    2. "We must be rid of that vacuous idiot Adern as soon as we can, most older nen would rather bang Judith crusher"

      Is sexual attractiveness to older men an important quality in Prime Ministers, in your opinion?

  4. yes got it, ChCh City Mission, I have been away from most political comment, and classy or not sex, attractiveness and politics are close.

    1. Do you think John Key's sexiness and attractiveness were part of what made him a successful Prime Minister?

    2. So Labour needs a leader who is as sexy as John Key?

      Looking back, was Helen Clark's sexiness a contributing factor to her nine years in power?

  5. Paul Scott's wager payment to ChCh City mission paid. receipt evidence on facebook site tomorrow.