• Is National’s Leadership Up for Grabs?

    What a pity!  It hasn’t taken long for some commentators to start re-writing history. 

    According to those commentators, the government didn’t do what it has universally been commended for doing; they say that Jacinda did not call forth a great collective effort (the “team of five million”) to defeat the coronavirus – something we did more successfully than any other country.  No, what those perennial critics saw was, they say, a government that “treated us like children”, and that “threatened our democracy”.

    No effort will be spared in those quarters, it seems, to take the gloss off the government’s, and our, success.  That effort will no doubt continue till election day.

    But, for the student of politics, the interest is not always limited to the battle between political parties for the voters’ allegiance.  Some of the most interesting battles occur, not between, but within parties – and that may be where the most fascinating stories will unfold over the next few months.

    It would not be surprising if the National party, having gone through the messy business of changing its leader, were now beginning to wonder if it had done the right thing or had at least made the right choice.  The hoped-for boost in poll ratings has not yet materialised under their new leader, perhaps reflecting his somewhat unconvincing and unconfident start and tendency to put his foot in it.

    The keen observer will be alert for signs that some National MPs might be beginning to wonder about the possibility of a further leadership contest.   It would accordingly be worth keeping an eye on those who might be seen as possible contenders, to see whether they seem to be making unusual efforts to promote themselves by capturing and staying in the headlines. 

    What are we to make, for instance, of National MP and finance spokesman (and supporter of Simon Bridges in the leadership election), Paul Goldsmith, and his headline-grabbing advice to the Prime Minister to “stick to her knitting”.  He must have known that it would attract a great deal of comment, by virtue of its plainly sexist connotations, but it served its purpose.  He was able to posture as someone who had landed an unlikely blow, however ill-judged, on a popular Prime Minister.  He might well have hoped that his colleagues in the National parliamentary party would have taken note and would have drawn the contrast between him and his party’s apparently ineffectual new leader.

    What is even more interesting, however, to those who follow politics, was that he was immediately ticked off for the possibly sexist nature of his remark by one his own colleagues – but it is the identity of that colleague that is really interesting.  The National MP who took it on herself to rebuke Paul Goldsmith was none other than Nikki Kaye, the deputy to Todd Muller, and the organiser of Muller’s successful campaign for the leadership.

    The rebuke must be seen therefore as a “put-down” and a “warning off” from the new leadership, suggesting that I am not alone in sensing that not all is as it might seem in National ranks.  It may be that Paul Goldsmith is not the only former Bridges supporter who sniffs the chance of a re-run of sorts.  There may well be other well-performing National front-benchers and former Bridges supporters – Michael Woodhouse is another name that springs to mind – who might be seen more frequently on our television screens in coming days and weeks.

    If there is any substance to these suspicions, it would be bad news for National.  It would suggest that the wounds inflicted on party unity by the removal of Simon Bridges – a step taken only by the narrowest of margins – may not yet have healed.

    Labour knows only too well the damage that is done when a party in opposition is riven by division and faction.  In Labour’s case, it meant a lengthy spell out of government.  Could the same fate be in store for National if Todd Muller’s shaky grip on the leadership comes under challenge from former supporters of Simon Bridges? 

    Bryan Gould

    16 June 2020