Days to the General Election: 27
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Peter Dunne says regardless of the winner, the public will be asking whether a party as divided as it is can present itself as a credible, united team with a coherent and focused plan when the election comes round in just 17 weeks

Peter Dunne says regardless of the winner, the public will be asking whether a party as divided as it is can present itself as a credible, united team with a coherent and focused plan when the election comes round in just 17 weeks

By Peter Dunne*

Anyone who doubted that Simon Bridges is a hardened fighter got their answer with his response this week to the leadership rumblings within the National Party.

For a leader whose judgement and decisiveness had been questioned on a number of occasions during the Covid-19 outbreak, he displayed a remarkable clarity and swiftness in bringing the increasingly festering boil of the National Party leadership to a head. Friday’s leadership vote has certainly taken the public by surprise, and looks to have caught a number of National MPs off-guard as well.

While there had been speculation for some time about how secure Simon Bridges’ leadership was, the conventional wisdom was that nothing would be done this close to the election.

For a start, none of the potential candidates to replace him would have wanted to be seen to precipitate a divisive and potentially electorally destructive coup just four months before an election. Nor was there any sign that Simon Bridges would decide to stand aside voluntarily for the sake of the party, as then Labour leader Andrew Little did in 2017. And there was certainly no Jacinda Ardern coming forward to replace him. After the election, and with the likelihood of another term in Opposition things might look a little different.

Typically, politicians brush aside public opinion polls, good or bad, lest they be accused of acting like the “poll-driven fruitcakes” former Prime Minister David Lange once described his Caucus critics as. However, privately, they take them very seriously, especially those bearing bad news.

In 1990, bad polls after bad polls forced then Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer to make way for Mike Moore, barely 59 days before the election, as Labour MPs worried their seats were at stake unsuccessfully sought rescue. Bad polls led a group of Labour MPs to call on Labour leader Helen Clark to stand aside in 1996, but she called their bluff and survived. It is no different today. There are undoubtedly a number of National MPs worried that recent bad polls mean they will be without seats after the September election, hence the search for an alternative leadership.

It is apparent now that after much speculation about who might replace Simon Bridges that the focus has settled on Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, with Auckland Central’s Nikki Kaye as his running mate.

While the numbers for change may have been beginning to firm behind the Muller/Kaye ticket, it is not clear that they were ready to be thrust into limelight as yet, the bad polls and the proximity of the election notwithstanding. Indeed, the several hours’ hesitancy between Bridges’ claim that there was a challenge which he would move to head off through as early a vote as possible, and Muller’s later confirmation that he was the challenger suggests as much.

So, by immediately opting for a leadership vote, and bringing the timing of that forward to Friday, Bridges has – at least temporarily – grabbed the initiative. Muller and his supporters have been placed on the back foot – they now have to put up, or shut up. It is a very bold gamble by Bridges who, publicly at least, seems confident it will succeed. Time will tell.

However, the leadership chalice which either Bridges or Muller will pick up on Friday is likely to be a very poisoned one.

Hotly contested leadership challenges always produce further divisions, no matter the superficial goodwill dispensed on such occasions.

If Bridges wins, his immediate challenge will to be deal with Muller and his supporters. Too much conciliation and he risks being seen as weak; too much retribution and he will be seen as petulant and overly vengeful.

If Muller wins, he will have to make some sort of peace offering to Bridges and his supporters to get them on-side for the election campaign. It is likely to be an unsatisfactory outcome either way, with the internal divisions it opens up certain to take some time to heal.

From the perspective of both sides the hope has to be that the Caucus vote produces a decisive result. Bridges cannot afford to be re-elected by a very narrow margin; nor will Muller be seen as enjoying the confidence of the Caucus if he prevails by just one or two votes.

Normally, the results of Caucus leadership votes are not officially released, but the numbers invariably make their way into the public arena very quickly after the vote has taken place. If the vote is close, both the government parties and the media will have a field day right through until the election pointing out the polarisation within the National Party Caucus.

From the public’s perspective, while there will be interest in the relative merits of Bridges or Muller as leader of the National Party, and who might be better for the party’s prospects, the overriding feeling will be a sense of unease at the level of internal division that has been exposed. They will be asking themselves the question that should be of primary interest to the National MPs: how can a party that is this divided today present itself as a credible, united team with a coherent and focused plan for the future they are all committed to, when the election comes around in just seventeen weeks?


*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.

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87 Comments

Three more years!

FRANKLY ..........LABOUR ARE WELCOME TO THREE MORE YEARS !

The economy will be so F()@#ed by August that there will be nothing for them to tax at all , so we are pretty safe from their tax -and-spend ideas .

Any idea of implementing a Capital Gains Tax will be useless , we are all facing massive CAPITAL LOSSES , so it will generate ZERO in revenue for the Fiscus , and , if implemented , all it will do is assuage the resentment of the losers among us , who believe our savings and and investments came from thin air .

This COL Government has been an unmitigated disaster for all of us and the chickens will start coming home on 28 June when we see how the economy has shrunk from the GST returns

It’s about the next election now, not the one this year. With an unknown new leader, or the current unpopular one, they are not going to roll a very popular first term govt.

VOR
Agreed.
Muller does not have the strong enough profile to win this election, and as a failed leader you can bet your bottom dollar he won't be kept for three year.
National are going to go through at least a couple of changes of leadership in opposition just as Labour did. Ousted Labour opposition leaders were Goff, Shearer, Cunliffe and Little.

Something in that true. But Mike Moore was allowed to run out a term in opposition in similar circumstances and did very well too, surprisingly so to many, at the next election. Of course the knife went in nevertheless after the election.

the one news poll out tonight will help decide the outcome, if it shows similar to newshub he is a goner.
my personal preference is for nikki kaye / chris bishop or paul goldsmith.
some young blood but nikki is not liked by a lot of the senior members and chris is paying the price for helping crusher Collins in her attempt earlier

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Going to throw out a generalisation that is going to offend, but my experience is that National is the party for stale, pale, male voters (can name a number in my extended family). For whatever reason they seem to be terrified of young women with power and Jacinda Adern seems to make them terribly insecure. I'm assuming having Nikki Kaye as leader of the National party would do the same thing.

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Haha spoken like a true die hard left winger. Always make it about race/gender because there is no such thing as incompetence with your beloved queen :) Let me guess, you are either on the dole or directly/indirectly on the government teat? :P

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I've been a National voter before and probably will be in the future. Does that make me a left winger? I'm confused. I invest on the share/bond markets and have enjoyed the fruits of capitalism...I've never received a government benefit or any form of welfare or support.

Next false allegation please...

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Why do all national supporters immediately assume anyone disagreeing with them is a far left communist living on the dole?
Most people usually sit in the centre somewhere and are able toi make rational decisions regardless of what colour party is involved.

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Yes and the funny thing is is that internally they bash anyone who doesn't vote national as a communist, then their party wants nothing more to align themselves with an actual communist party (CCP). Odd right?

I've talked to these people in person. Its mostly a form of tribalism. They've never voted for any party other than National so just vote blue and don't think about things any more than that. I've voted both left and right and vote with a ultitiliarian view on things - i.e. what I believe will be best for the most NZ'ers and with a forward looking view. So to call me a left-winger is far from the truth. Probably more centrist than anything.

Agree. It's a real head-scratcher.

Unfortunately, die-hard voters of both Labour and National don't seem to possess the ability to have an independent view. It's Red or Blue. Black and white. If your view of the world is determined by the party you vote for and have no interest in evaluating other points of view. There is a lack of ability to think for yourself and form your own viewpoint. Which is a bit scary.

*popcorn_munching_intensifies*

"Let me guess, you are either on the dole or directly/indirectly on the government teat?"

Jesus Christ this is embarrassingly lazy thinking. The popularity of this comment shows the extent to which this comments section skews towards diehard National-at-any-price voters with zero independent critical thinking framework.

Especially given they're never shy of holding their own hand out for welfare.

I did find it quite amusing that Jordan Williams of the NZ Taxpayers Union took the wage subsidy;

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/04/coronavirus-taxpayers-un...

As Winston Peters recently said, in politics you need to learn to 'never say never' - lol.

You're worried that the truth will offend IO?

Add in the fact that she's got some left leaning tendencies and I'm sure they're having heart palpitations...

Surely she'd garner more votes than the ex tobacco lobbyist, Bishop?

Its a bit like America not being ready for a female president. They preferred Trump over Clinton (not saying I'm a fan of either). But there's a generation over there who just aren't ready for a women with that much power. Lived there, talked to the people. Just as I have with men in their 50's - 70's here. The Mark Richardson's of New Zealand.

Hillary won the popular vote by a margin of a couple of million. It was the electoral college votes that counted, so Trump won.

Does that include female voters? are they not ready to vote for a woman too?

Hillary did not win the black vote....

Race, gender and age is irrelevant. I have worked for as many women as men and just respect ability. Jacinda is a brainless socialist - she is simply a well polished PR person. She has the same views as Jeremy Corbyn.

"Going to throw out a generalisation that is going to offend, but my experience is that National is the party for stale, pale, male voters (can name a number in my extended family). For whatever reason they seem to be terrified of young women with power and Jacinda Adern seems to make them terribly insecure. I'm assuming having Nikki Kaye as leader of the National party would do the same thing."

So where does Paula Bennett fit into your picture

The devil is normally caricatured as male.

@ Independent Observer. Sorry to upset you but I detest Ardern. Mainly because of her similarities to Muldoon. Make that a sexist comment if you will. The similarities are increasing daily.

Is bigotry the in thing these days?

You are obviously forgetting Margaret Thatcher. And showing us all your own shallow bigotted prejudices.

I don't quite understand why Paul Goldsmith is looked upon so fondly by National supporters. He looks uptight and has a clipped manner of speaking - makes him a steady hand?

So we have a choice between a socialist party and a communist supporting party. Not much of a choice.

Even among the smaller parties it's the same dilemma. Sophie's choice, this election.

Socialist all the way. National is dead to me as long as they have that "former" CCP spy Jian Yang as a list MP.

It's not an either/or thing. Sometimes society is served best by some lefties and sometimes by some righties. Terms are only 3 years, no one is committing to a lifetime of Communist Dictatorship (i'm looking at you Xi). Most of the time, we are served best in some kind of goldilocks middle ground. It's such a shame we can't see beyond tribalism.

It does show how wise Andrew Little was to step aside when it was obvious Labour was sinking under his leadership. It is just as obvious that National are in the same position under that of Bridges. A change therefore could hardly be called a change for the sake of change. A new duo of leaders are not likely to make matters worse. And there will be attack opportunity and ground to be made up for the opposition when the government reveals its tax intentions. From listening to Muller, he is reasonably articulate and versed to front such a campaign.

Question becomes whether he has the humility to do so without taking the party down with him - not sure if he does.

Agreed, totally! And that being the case it would reveal what a poor choice he was in the first place. That is, before anything else, there is me, me and only me.

The problem for National, is that Muller, Collins and Benefit are all worse than Bridges. Maybe it says something about the Neoliberal ideology that the main proponents are all toxic Machiavellians?

Kind of agree. National would be in the same position regardless of who is in charge I think, just he way things have worked out. However Bridges has made some daft errors and comes across to many as entitled and unlkikeable so a change might work

Yeah, but lets say Simon wins this battle.

Then what? What if their polls stay around the same or drift lower? Is he going to resign? That will just make the party look even more incompetent.

They will just push the knives in deeper

Sorry SB.

Time to step down for good.

Given he was a CCP shill, I'm surprised you think that way

It is a highly competitive process to be a leader. He had his shot but missed it.

He is still a very competent guy to do other stuff.

A new leader is brewing and he will tune down a bit but know where he stands.

Opps....

xingmowang: I don't necessarily believe SB 'is a very competent guy to do other stuff'. Apparently he was a crown prosecutor, and if you've ever been a spectator at a civil trial you will think you're at the circus. It's very entertaining watching the judges forever correcting the crown prosecutors much the same as a strict primary school teacher does with school children. The prosecutors are so befuddled that every time the judge pulls them up, which is every time they speak, they shuffle the papers in front of them until the judge says 'Mr ? we can't spend anymore time on this, perhaps you can supply the answer at the next session' whereupon the prosecutor mumbles 'yes your Honour' and continues shuffling until the judge sweeps out of the courtroom his gown flowing behind him.

Time to make Jian Yang leader! Will make the process of getting and carrying out orders from Xinnie the Flu that much simpler.

If the Gnats change leadership, if Muller does well, and if the economy slumps further I don't think one can totally rule out a Gnats election victory - although unlikely. Remember things looked similarly hopeless about this time before the last election for Labour.
Policy will be vital though. Could the new leadership bring some fresh thinking? I quite like Nikki.

Yes I think if Nikki Kaye were leader of National then they would have a real chance. Many of the females I talk to vote for Labour because of Jacinda (young and old). She might be able to draw quite a few from Labour back to National. Todd Muller probably can't do that...

Too many factions amongst them,some worried purely about their jobs being on the line next election.
Some want Bridges to carry on,so they can roll him if they lose post election so they can put forward JK anointed Luxon.
Muller / Kaye probably figure this is there best chance,if they win or lose the election,it can be blamed on Bridges.
If they don't roll him now,they probably worry Luxon supporters will put him forward as a fresh talent,JK 2.0, the new messiah,not tainted by this term in opposition.

My thoughts too IO. I wondered if the presentation got flipped, Nickki to lead and Todd as deputy if they would get more traction? Or are there too many old, stale, pale, white men in the party to allow that to happen?

OTOH, it might be a good election in which to make a token effort, and then sit out the inevitable 'Three More Years' debacle. This is perhaps more the 'poisoned chalice' rather than the immediate maneuverings.....

At the 2023 contest, with the knowledge that there will be a Big Mess to clean up, by then the wings may well have fallen off (or have been pulled off) the current crop of High Flyers in Gubmint. And the public, whose children, grand-children and lo, unto the third generation will be looking forward aghast at Paying Back the $ so carelessly splashed around, may well be in no mood for another 3MY. That leaves a lot of repositioning time.....

Agree. This a akin to helping someone that has just maxed out their first credit card. They need to own the mess they've created so it isn't repeated.

Depends entirely on what platform the next government is elected.

After a very underwhelmingly cautious 2020 budget, they could be planning some significant structural changes for the 2020 election campaign.

And the public, whose children, grand-children and lo, unto the third generation will be looking forward aghast at Paying Back the $ so carelessly splashed around

Waymad, where were you this past decade? So refreshing, this apparent care for debt saddled onto children and grandchildren to enrich folk now. All these new leaves being turned over.

I'm curious waymad, why you think we will need to bring government debt back down so swiftly/severely?

The Nats need some firm policy put forward so the public can judge..."unleashing the private sector", "turbocharging the economy" are all hollow sound bites and click bait headlines.I for one don't care who comes up with the ideas...I just want to hear them articulated fully.

Muller is no Jacinda and Kaye being Deputy means she won't be going 1 on 1 vs Jacinda in debates.

Hooten had it right on RNZ this morning - Bridges has jumped in to lance the boil when he could have waited for it to ooze away - now his only options are to be splattered or binning 2 of his best cotton balls into the backbenches. Collins has been given no choice but to squeeze. Bye bye Bridges.

Did you see Hooten's shill piece in the Herald for the CCP? https://www.reddit.com/r/newzealand/comments/gmi0ex/i_found_this_disgust...

I wouldn't listen to a word that corrupt lackey says.

Quick - shoot the messenger - even a corrupt lackey can make relevant points.

The best candidate should be put up against Ardern and attack her on her promises.Slightly off topic but we have had Clarke,Shipley and now Ardern and yet we still have men getting sentenced to only 12 months and sometimes less for the crime of rape.

That's if they are charged at all due to apologists e.g. Parliament. I hope that young woman finds peace.

Isn’t Muller the “Ok Boomer” recipient? That’s all I know him for. I figure more would prefer Nikki at least she already beat Jacinda in an election...

With the age of social media, climate change, and Covid19 pandemic. JA is spot on in her presentation as a young leader (except for Mike Hoskins and his missus). The Nat must come up with someone as dynamic as that.. I can only think of Nikki Kaye at this stage.

I actually believe you all need to Grow Up:

- It's NOT 'about the next election'
- It's NOT 'about Muller having no name recognition'
- It's NOT 'about bailout money'
- It's NOT 'about etc, etc'

It's about Good Governance, Vision for NZ, Legislation and Acting in the Public's Interests.

Everybody has a rough idea of what's going on in the brains of Jacinda, Winston, Shaw, even Seymour. We understand their policies and for the most part believe them capable of pivoting if things turn to custard - NOT SO FOR BRIDGES.

National Policies: They want to undo the foreign buyers ban and roll back healthy home regulations .. that's it - WINNERS LOL.

National Leaders? (Bridges/Muller):
- Bridges has NO policies
- No telling how he'll react in any given situation
- Public have no idea what's going on upstairs
- No vision

- Muller also has no policies
- Muller's vision for NZ since a child was .. to run NZ (that's it!)
- Has the fashion-appeal/charisma of a potato
- Has YESTERYEAR degree(s) relating to political science, which make him myopic IMO

If National think writing off this election is appropriate, their number of MP's deserves to be greatly diminished. TBH, they do look pretty hopeless.

If you think National are ready to form the next government, I have a question for you. Are you drunk?

My advice is to steer clear of all politicians. They are all like washing machines. They have very long spin cycles.

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Pre covid - Nats 40% + for support.
Now - no air time, you cant argue about a science led response, seem to have missed widespread death, overall a good response in the situation.
Next - well who knows, people scared, rightly so.
Jacinda - articulate, re assuring, empathy, spending as Nats would have as they say themselves

Its a hard/impossible ask for anyone. This just reflects the flakeness of the Nats - Not recognizing the situation and instant panic. Me, myself and I party as far as I can see. Not for me Im afraid.

It's not impossible. You just have to attack the government where they've been weak - there's going to be more Kiwis out of work, there's going to be higher taxes for those who do keep their jobs, there's going to be more pressure on households and Labour is determined to keep adding costs (e.g. fuel tax) at a time when most will suffer a decline in household incomes.

They haven't come good on their election promises, they've walked away from or stopped talking about things like housing or Light Rail because they can't deliver them and they're relying on a smart and charismatic leader to mask a woeful depth of talent. But that doesn't make it easier for Kiwis to put food on the table or fill the tank or get to and from work.

That's it. Just say that. And then tell people why a National government would make them better off and make it easier for them to do go about their lives.

I don't know that tax cuts for the rich, higher property prices and more immigration is going to cut it, this year.

100% - I don’t see what National will do for the average punter. What they’ve pushed so far is tax cuts for the wealthy, pro selling our assets to foreigners be it houses, land or company assets and increased rents

Not much use for young would-be farmers hoping to own a farm in future.

But there in lies their problem, Bridges attacks relentlessly and offers no viable alternatives to the governments’ policies. He’s at best a tethered dog barking at passing cars.

I don't envy the choice National MPs now have to make. Because they are both good candidates, and it is likely indeed to be a poisoned chalice.
a. Simon Bridges has done very very well despite circumstance being against him.
b. The Nat party overall don't have a clear communicated policy pathway forward. (pre virus). That does not support any leader.
c. Sometime in the future Todd Muller will be seen as a well regarded Prime Minister, perhaps distingushed. Not sure when.
d. The more people Ardern/Robertson make dependent on the government, the more votes they get. That's really working for them - for now.
e. Woodhouse compared Ardern to Muldoon. As I think about it more, that was a good spot.

Which circumstance was against Soyman there KH? The one that he's in opposition?

In opposition. Yes, but he was starting to get some traction. Wall to wall Ardern coverage during covid was a problem Labour making everybody dependent on govern is a tactic that works in NZ, sadly.

So are the Nats about to replace Beijing Bridges with just Beige?

they can not replace bridges unless head office (CCP) approves it
so I guess muller's first visit in wellington before the showdown will to the Chinese ambassador to get her blessing

Like most people, I responded to Todd Muller’s leadership challenge by asking ‘Who the hell is Todd Muller?’

So I did some Googling to try and find out what this guy’s all about and discovered his biggest credential is being the guy Chloe Swarbrick said ‘Okay Boomer’ to in parliament.

Oh, National. Oh, oh, oh, National. The Okay Boomer guy is your big trump card? Is this really all you’ve got?

Please. National. Take a beat. Sober up. Get your f-king life together. Do a meditation retreat or something. Whatever it is you need to do. Figure out what your values are. Come back to us when you have something constructive to offer.

Apart from not taxing inflation on earnings, I can't tell you what National's policy platform for anything else is. I can't tell you why they'd succeed at what Labour has failed to do, or even what they'd do instead.

And even though that's the one policy they've made any traction with, Simon Bridges hasn't been jumping up and down about this in relation to how much debt we're taking on and how taxes will need to rise to pay for it. No matter how badly Labour fails to do what they said they would, I still at least know what they said they would do in the first place. National can't even get that far.

Yep, pretty much. I was on the fence about voting Labour again before all this, given their epic failure to deliver on election promises. I knew their promises were a stretch but I wasn't expecting failure by such an impressive margin. The fact they could fail that bad and it's still a no-brainer to vote them back in speaks volumes.

SB is gone by (just after) lunch time.....

The sad thing is the end loser is the voter themselves - a Govt with no opposition becomes lazy and has even less reason to deliver on anything, other than enriching themselves and those around them. We saw it unfold while Labour was churning through leaders and we'll see it happen again now.

Agreed. I have a weird mishmash of conservative and liberal views depending on the topic so I would like to have a genuine centre-ish conservative option, but it's just not there. Unfortunately NZ just sort of oscillates between one party and the other not because one has a strong vision but because the other is an absolute shambles.

Oh they said they would remove the foreign buyer ban if they got back into government...that intention alone is enough for me and the under 40 demographic not to touch them with a 10ft barge pole.

I understand he was also the National lead on the Zero Carbon Act and ETS changes which Shaw wanted so desperately to get passed with cross-party support. So, I guess Muller drove the National line toward consensus. And he did manage to get a reprieve for farmers on methane and the biggest industrial emitters got their 'free' credits - so all-in-all that legislation was a major compromise favouring the traditional National supporters from what the Greens (and the public) initially sought.

I sort of like Todd Muller and his CV. He also seems to be a calm & collected gentleman. Nikki can provide the fire to the slate. Could be a good competition to Jacinda. National doesn't have much to lose by changing the leaders now. 4 months is enough to reverse the down trend and build a momentum. Remember, the election may be postponed to November, if Winston holds firm.

Kaye is the only one with a snowball's chance in hell against Jacinda.

Indeed crazy times. But if we look to history, then we realise that during the initial periods of massive change, the majority is ALWAYS wrong. When they wake up (usually once the Pied Piper of the day has them at the cliff face) then the about-turn in sentiment is very abrupt. Either way, I think that one of the following scenarios will play out:
1) The election will be very close (a few % points rather than 20%+). Labour could conceivably lose if we hit 20%+ unemployment by the election.
2) If Labour win, then given the economic carnage that is coming over the next 3yrs regardless of govt, Jacinda will end her next term being one of the most hated leaders in NZ history. This will be the real poisoned chalice of their own making.
The majority will cry "impossible" to both scenarios, which makes them look like an even surer bet...

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Days to the General Election: 27
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