Monday, March 20, 2023

Cam Slater: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Quietly

There isn’t yet an active move against Christopher Luxon, but there are murmurings, and where there are murmurings, there are people starting to count heads. Shane Te Pou, back from a sojourn writing his political prognostications has written about the malaise that has beset the Luxon leadership.

One thing’s clear: Luxon’s not going to step down as leader voluntarily. He wants one thing out of politics – to be prime minister. And he’s chasing that goal with unwavering self-belief.

No, if Luxon goes, it’ll be because he was pushed. And Nicola Willis would be the one leading the shoving.

A rapid riser and unashamedly ambitious, Willis may well think she can save National from the defeat Luxon is sleepwalking towards. She certainly took the opportunity of Luxon’s Covid isolation to be front and centre in media and parliament this week.

Problem is, the last time Willis convinced the caucus to roll an established leader in an election year gamble, it resulted in Todd Muller’s ill-fated 53 days at the top, followed by the disaster of Judith Collins. National collapsed from leading the polls at the start of 2020 to laughing-stock territory by election day. They won’t want to repeat the exercise.

Willis’ colleagues, some of whom still harbour resentment over the way she led the Muller coup and dislike her cut-throat style, will be wary of taking a punt like that again. Especially if she’s the candidate.

Maybe they’ll look for a different option. Pickings are slim, but I reckon there are two choices:
NZ Herald

The main problem with Nicola Willis is that she has all the demeanour, the sound and fury, of a scold. She showed that nasty streak in her unabashed attack on Maureen Pugh.

She is also of the same mould as Jordan Williams and Chris Bishop: so convinced of their own brilliance, supported by careers as university debaters, that they’ll continue to berate you as to error of your ways, steadfast in their belief that if they just keep at you for another 15 minutes you will be swayed by the flawed points they are making.

It is arrogant and tone deaf, but such are those at the top of the National Party now.

Then Te Pou punts a speculator out there with suggestions as to who should lead. Now bear in mind this is a hardcore leftist who likes to kick Tory dogs. Nonetheless, there is talk, and these two names keep coming up.

Shane Reti. He led with quiet dignity during the short interregnum after Collins was dethroned. He wouldn’t bring the same energetic negativity that has characterised Luxon’s leadership, but he might bring reasons to vote for National, rather than just against Labour. And it’s worth noting the last time National polled consistently over 40 per cent was with a Maori leader.

Erica Stanford. Another quick riser, Stanford hasn’t put as many noses out of joint in National’s caucus as Willis and seems more genuine, less of a political machine. In her immigration portfolio, Stanford has been able to stand up for people who have been screwed over by the remorseless machinery of government. That could be a basis for more hopeful, positive leadership.

If National does bite the bullet, whoever replaces Luxon is going to have to find a positive message and a compelling set of policies. They’ll have their work cut out for them. When Jacinda Ardern became Labour leader seven weeks from the 2017 election, she inherited a full policy programme and overlaid it with her infectious optimism. But a new National leader would have to build the party’s platform from the ground up, and would have mere months to do it. Let me finish by telling you this: tax cuts for folks at the big end of town isn’t the election winner National thinks it is.
NZ Herald

Clearly, Te Pou is not up on the current rumours swirling around about Erica Stanford, who successfully kept her head down and her lips buttoned during another scandal in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

Reti, I rate. But there simply isn’t any move happening just yet, just disgruntled chancers softening everyone up with loose talk designed to quietly debilitate a flat-lining leader.

Luxon has huge issues and we are only just seeing the tip of the iceberg on those. But the major one is that no leader of an opposition party has ever won with negative net favourables since Jim Bolger trounced a distinctly loathed Labour Party in 1990. His favourables were mitigated by the fact that voters hated Labour more than they disliked Bolger.

At this stage of the election cycle, just six months out from a general election, Luxon should be way in front, but he’s not and neither is National. And that’s the nub of the issue.

It’s an issue that could have been fixed when he became leader, but is altogether too late to attempt to fix it now. When National lost in 2002, the biggest issue identified in the Joyce review of the debacle was a lack of polling information – that would have countered the group think inside the English leadership. Back then Joyce recommended that National spend big on polling, to gauge reality rather than wishful thinking. That decision was continued under John Key for the duration of his leadership.

Since 2017 and especially after 2020, that reality gauging has fallen by the wayside, leaving the blissful idiocracy of Luxon, Willis and Bishop to just guess what voters think. Until and unless they change that they will continue to fail to fire; running the risk of an embarrassing loss and the destruction of Luxon’s leadership.

Cam Slater is a New Zealand-based blogger, best known for his role in Dirty Politics and publishing the Whale Oil Beef Hooked blog, which operated from 2005 until it closed in 2019. This article was first published HERE


Robert Arthur said...

The public wil never believe that any obvious maori who has not consistently made his attitude very clear, will be capable of placing NZ before maori. Reti as leader would be the death of National. And Willis showed gross misjudgement in plugging for the building zone changes, especially as these apply to Auckland.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt: National is - and never has been - anything like a real Opposition ( though it has lots of material to behave like one.)

Anonymous said...

And until National come out hard on co-governance, the partnership and the irrelevance of the Treaty in 2023, they are a spent force. It was their election to win, but they're fast blowing it, and deservedly so for not listening to the punters.

Anonymous said...

It's probably too late for National to do anything. Let them blunder their way to polling day. They only deserve that. They've ruined any chance already.

All of the nasty lot of bees, everyone of them arrogant or not, the ones able to keep their noses clean or tarnish their reputation by "speaking out" can go on a self congratulating climax on election night. It won't make any difference to anyone anyway. They will only do what's next to be done regardless of who they may be.

They've shown thier true colours over the past 3 years I hold no hope. They only speak in sanctomonious and meaningless drivel.

A bunch of despots.
I just feel sad that cheats are rewarded so well. All on the gravy train shamelessly.