Peter Dunne says much of the commentary around the new National Party leader has been 'mindless'; says the new leader does have an opportunity to fill the current void for a party appealing to the liberal, urban, middle-class

By Peter Dunne*

Much of the commentary since the election of Simon Bridges as leader of the National Party has been utterly mindless.

After all, it is at least two and a half years in all probability until the next election and a great deal can happen before then.

By way of comparison, would anyone have seriously imagined just six months ago that Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges would be the leaders of their respective parties by now, and that both would be beholden to Winston Peters for the exercise of power?

It is that glorious uncertainty which makes contemporary politics so interesting, and why the election of Mr Bridges should be viewed as more than just another passing event.

But, already the script has been written, at least by some.

In essence, it boils down to Labour being unassailable for the next election because of the popularity of the Prime Minister, and Mr Bridges being just the next in the hapless list of National Party leaders she will dispose of before then.

Now, if Mr Bridges acts like Opposition leaders since about 2008 all of this may well come to pass. But that assumes that he and the wider National Party have learnt no lessons from Labour's time in Opposition and will simply repeat the same mistakes.

It may well be the case. After all, National in Opposition from 1999 to 2008 went through three leaders before the emergence of John Key, and Labour from 2008 to 2017 went through four before the arrival of Jacinda Ardern. It is just what happens when parties go into Opposition after long periods in Government.

However, the current notion that an Opposition leader should get only one shot at being Prime Minister has not always been the case, and need not be so again. Indeed, had that formula applied, some of our more formidable Prime Ministers may never have made the grade. Holyoake lost in 1957 but then came back to win four straight elections - the best performance ever - and Kirk lost two elections before his landslide win in 1972. More recently, Jim Bolger lost badly in 1987, but won the next three elections.

So, the first lesson for the National Party today is to take a long view about its new leadership. By all means, it should do its utmost to win the 2020 election, however unlikely that may appear at this stage. But, at the same time, and on the assumption Mr Bridges performs well over the next couple of years, there will be no reason to drop him if he does not win in 2020.

Voters constantly send a message that they like predictability and stability. Sticking with a good leader, if not yet a successful one, sends a pretty clear signal about reliability and continuity, whereas changing leaders every couple of years or so confirms a sense of instability and lack of fitness to govern in voters' minds, something both National and Labour should be well aware of from recent experiences. Mr Bridges is young enough to lead National to a loss in 2020 and two following wins, yet still be under 50.

National is struggling to get to grips with the reality of emerging as the largest party at the last election, but ending up powerless because it lacked friends. Mr Bridges recognised this immediately with his none too subtle olive branch to the Greens, but given the Greens' apparent tunnel vision when it comes to the prospect of working with National, he will need to do much more than this. A rapprochement with New Zealand First any time soon seems unlikely, and may not matter in the longer term anyway. Moreover, the notion that by driving both the Government's partners below the 5% threshold at the next election, National might thereby be in a position to govern without partners is so fanciful to suggest that even after more than 20 years of MMP National has not yet understood its very essence.

And when the Government's anti-democratic party hopping legislation is passed, it will become extremely difficult for National to set up a partner party based around one or two of its sitting MPs peeling off, so its dilemma in terms of future government formation becomes even more acute. The absence of the Maori Party the demise of UnitedFuture, and the increasingly erratic ACT simply add to the problem.

That set of circumstances and Mr Bridges' own political positioning - socially conservative and from working class origins - does open up a possible solution. There has long been a view that one void in the New Zealand political spectrum has been an effective representative vehicle for the liberal, urban middle class. For a time, both UnitedFuture and ACT sought to fill that vacuum, but, for various and differing reasons, never quite made it. Yet the void still exists, so presents National with an opportunity. It should seek to work with like-minded people to establish such a party to provide it, more often than not, with the long-term partner it now so desperately needs.

Of course, National must be determined to win in 2020, but so too will Labour which will start as clear favourite. But with its partners suffering at the moment the fate of all small parties in government, Labour may be more vulnerable than it otherwise should be. This does not mean National might be able to sleepwalk to victory - absolutely very far from it - but that with the proverbial little bit of luck, coupled with a long-term perspective and a lot of sensible organisation, it could prove to be extremely competitive. A challenge Mr Bridges is no doubt acutely aware of, and one he will relish.      

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*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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53 Comments

What will be interesting is where they go with policy now. In 2007 they ran on the urgent housing crisis and action to address it, then spent three terms denying a crisis exists. Now they're back in opposition, Bridges again admits a housing crisis exists.

So what do they campaign on? Unwinding any efforts Labour makes at Kiwibuild while still claiming to care about the housing crisis? Increasing foreign buying and immigration? Cutting obligations for landlords and property investors? Further increasing subsidies to property investors and company wages (as in the last campaign)?

And with Bridges having put his flag in the grounds of social conservatism, will he be abandoning that ground for the more socially liberal at risk of his claim on more conservative voters?

Will he be abandoning his use of a private superannuation scheme a la Double Dipper to get extra money out of the NZ taxpayer for a house he himself owns? http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11154765 Will be interesting times. As someone for whom ethics was one of two reasons for ceasing to vote for National (over the last two terms) Bridges is not looking like a likely person to address that.

Well said. The vote base/demographics supporting the initiatives you describe is rising. Thus, the only hope the Nats have is to do even more in these areas (not gonna happen) or a continual rise in voting immigrants that share the same corrupt behavior.

"an effective representative vehicle for the liberal, urban middle class",

I am in the opinion that this has been what James Shaw and Genter have already started on.

They are the ones who have been building on former Green leaders in mainstreaming the environmental perspective on economic development for years. They already occupt the most important source of future "representation" open to harvesting.

The upcoming young people are informed by very different perspectives on what political representation consists of. I think they are too savy to be hoodwinked by being sold "liberal" and centre-right naturally amount to the same thing.

Politicians are increasingly less able to rely on the old left-right tribal dog whistles.

Generally, it's they, the Greens, who have done the heavy lifting on progressive liberal policy development for at least the past decade. Labour, and especially National, are in no position to kid themselves and deny that the have been adapting and modifying Greens policy towards economy and environmental issues.

The electorate will reward them. Sooner rather than later. The Greens will grow there base under Shaw and the new associate ministers. Watch that space!

Agree, I think Shaw and Genter - unless they seriously foul up - will be good for mainstreaming the Greens.

The whole ethos of the last decade - borrowing from the future to not reduce what we're enjoying today - seems to be in danger of unwinding, and younger folk seem to be the ones who have not benefited from this borrowing to any great extent today anyway.

Yes, there's a lot of 20, 30, 40 somethings out their who have been shut out of home ownership. National may well carry the can for that.

The new political preference is for action. Not left right identity politics. It hasn't worked for too many.

The young aren't getting their politics from there parents and grandparents so much, they are being formed by information and solutions to inequalities.
They will be pragmatic in "voting", not tribal.

I'd add into the social aspects, the environmental aspects, there are far fewer climate-sceptics in the younger generation, National's environmental record is woeful, their social (in particular for the young) has been distinctly average. These are things particularly when you're in your formative years - 18-30 that stick. You mentioned that left/right identity politics might not be a thing, I'm going to argue the opposite, there will be tribes and those tribes are being formed now. The young apparently have a stronger sense of society, and what they will have experienced over the past decade is something that I don't think will readily dwindle.

Nah, small parties are destroyed when they partner with the biggest party. They lose their identity. If you side with the biggest player then you become their sidekick. For 500 years British foreign policy in Europe was founded on partnering with the second largest European power. In that way you have a chance to preserve your independence.

National lost the plot, not the vote. What was it 44% National to 28% Labour? All it takes is for Winston to get ill and New Zealand First will self destruct, like the Rodney Hide Party, the Jim Anderton Party and the Peter Dunne Party before them. They are the Winston Peters Party. Without him they are completely pointless and the first ill wind will blow them away.

National should seek to understand why NZ First voters vote for Winston and not National, they have looked down on them for too long. Can't see it under Bridges, he seems just too eager to con the voters rather than listen to their concerns.

National 44.6% - Labour 36.9% - NZF 7.2% - Green 6.3% - top 2.4 - act 0.5%.

They will vote for Tabetaux.

Politics has and is going "left". Too many left out of the wealth stake in society.

I worry about Labour's economic management - and foolish promises.

In 2.5 years time, when perhaps a few hundred houses have been built under KiwiBuild - and not the 30,000 promised - voters are going to feel duped.

TTP

Go down to your local mall, sit in one of the seats and watch the people going past. I don’t get the sense that many of those people have the time or inclination to wade through in-depth performance reviews on the Government. What will influence their vote is whether they feel their personal finances have improved over the previous three years and what Taxinda has in store for them post the tax working group recommendations. Die hard left supporters like Didge and right supporters like me don’t change elections , the swing voters do. My biggest concern is that Taxinda won’t have the courage of her convictions to put a real leftist flavour on the new taxes, because that would lose them the election.

TTP, don't lie awake worrying and counting water spots on your ceiling. The voters won't feel duped. If Kiwibuild erect just 300 houses in 2-1/2 years, its still 200 more than Nationals nine year eye watering effort of 100!

If house builds fall short, there will be a good reason and this will be communicated. I sense there is a lot of pressure and genuine passion to see this through. National were under a similar pressure - to make the rich, richer and deny the existence of an affordable housing crisis.

Labours supporters are already wanting total confiscation of all private assets. NZ is turning into communist state so start collecting cardboard boxes if you intend staying here.........110,000 teachers who taught nothing......and created 1,000,000 adults who have the literacy and numeracy levels of a 12 year old......dirty beyond belief.......greedy beyond belied.......never see a poor bureaucrat, public servant or politician.......cos they put their hands in your pocket removing what the want right up until the pocket is bare.....

If NZ keeps up down the Jacinda track we are buggered faster.
I reckon there will be an exodus to Australia.......

notaneconomist, really? Maybe the solution lies at the end of your rant "I reckon there will be an exodus to Australia"

NZ is an even better country without people who think the Turnbull Government offers greener pastures.

https://www.jetstar.com/nz/en/cheap-flights

Short-sighted thinking there R-P. Assuming they are smart enough to ensure they've lived in NZ for five years after 50 (I was), then non Australian citizens will be back on our doors when their snout is ready to drink from the tax payer trough for superannuation and healthcare.

Ex Expat, damn! Does it really have to be a revolving door?

One day your grandchildren and great grandchildren might question how NZ become a communist state.......will you tell with them pride how you kept supporting the left wing and slowly it flew off course under the heavy lop-sided weight of state theft and control?

I'm a grandchild and I'm questing how NZ became so greedy and self interested? My grandparents were kind, caring and were happy with one small home to live in and retire in, with out the need for excess. They didn't need 5 rentals, the expensive holidays, the Audi....

I don't tell them with pride (I can't....) how for 10 years people continued to support the right wing government for their own (financial) self interest as people speculated on house prices, sold homes to rich foreign owners, while poor people struggled to make rent and many slept in cars. All while the right wing government failed to regulate the excessive and has created many problems that future generations will now have to address or struggle through.

Because Grandchild, the UK entered the Common Market and we had an annoying oil crisis in the ‘70s which led to a few economic issues which the National PM of the day tried to fix with price and wage freezes. That was followed by a LABOUR government that threw us all to the vagaries of Market Forces and we had to fend for ourselves. We came out ok, because we retired in 1990 with a house worth $450,000 that cost us $6,000 in 1970. The Governments starting making noises about pension means testing etc and we worried so much about our retirement that we bought rentals because we didn’t trust the sharemarket. Inflation did the same for our rentals that it did for our home and we are very comfortable. Sorry if that upsets your generation. If it does, please give our estate to the Government so that all can benefit. PS Don’t eat the Yellow snow!

Yes you're a fearful lot - your fear of missing out or not having enough appears to have driven you to greed - which in time will cause another cycle of fear.....It makes sense....All very rational.

The kind, caring and happy grandparents probably enjoyed a 3% state advance loan while those shouldering the cost (the unhappy ones) were paying up to 20%!

Life was just grand - wasn't it!

I paid 22% for the short period I had a house in the late '80s.

In the late 80s, I had the opportunity to buy a house in Henderson Valley for $63K. At the time I was offered 20%. I think the rate was 1% higher if I were to rent it out. There were no guarantees this rate would not soar even higher. I chickened out at the last minute because I wasn't confident about my employment. They were rocky times back then. I was single and had little savings and no other financial support. I was layed of 5 months later!

I don't regret this decision in the slightest as I was still free to move about and soon after gained employment on the other side of Auckland.

Looking back, I think I was a bit young to face this sort of thing!

Not to mention the govt efforts to boost supply beyond that. And the free education and generous contributions while doing it. None of this starting off working with a big debt to pay off, and facing an even more uncertain pension prospect in the future - as well as unaffordable housing with oldies ranting against the idea of resurrecting government supply efforts, or reduction of study costs closer to what one paid in one's own day.

Also the inflation decimated savers.

IO

I can only give you a couple of pieces of advice......"The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence".......or perhaps........"Do not covet another persons property"...........if you see someone poor living rough or in their car......take time to talk to them and find out what their problems are and how they got there
that is if they want to talk to you.........NZ has always had transient people some want to be that way others don't.

https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/handle/10523/7190?show=full

Mate...I used to listen to Leighton too...but this stuff is just off the deep end. Just because the slide into Dickensian times has been temporarily abated does not automatically mean a slide into communism. There's plenty of middle ground.

Also see: New Zealand's history of social democracy, tax policy, housing policy etc. Communist? Never. Delivering benefits to you? Oh yes, quite some indeed.

RS - I don't think you have a clue on how a country becomes a communist state!

There is no middle ground when it comes to this Left Wing Govt. Jacinda has brushed off business confidence poll results without a care in the world......why doesn't she need to care?.......because business confidence doesn't matter to her plan.........People were sucked in by Mao.......Jacinda is cunning and selling the goods quite differently. If you don't believe me watch the contraints that are going to be applied to agriculture......they are already heavily regulated......but you watch as farmers are going to find themselves in a regulatory nightmare........one that is designed to defeat them over time......and one where the new system is supported by the people (who are too stupid to see or understand) brainwashing is an easy game........Hitler knew that only too well............there is not one industry where the land under it is not being targetted in NZ..........but you keep on beating that communist drum!

RS - I don't think you have a clue on how a country becomes a communist state!

So ...which countries have become communist by stealth? You may need to brush up on history there.

ironically (as you rail against Labour), after National railed against Working for Families as "communism by stealth" they themselves then campaigned on increasing it at the last election. Maybe the nominally-blues are actually reds under the bed too?

I dunno mate, it sounds like you're confusing communism and social democracy. And we know you're not against socialism, as you're going to draw your pension from taxes of others. Turn the Newstalk dial off and back away from the radio.

Now that Godwin's law has been satisfied I'm not sure if the conversation continues or not? FYI I searched for the antonym of neo liberal and someone had put state socialism. It rolls off the tongue and seems to get to the heart of why I dislike the Left so much. It's not the socialism per se, but the thought that the likes of Didge can impose their ideaology on my life through the State. I can't recall one decision in my life where I've thought the State would have made a better one for me.

Actually the Wikipedia page for neoliberalism does at the tail end of its introductory paragraph highlight its historical opposite...or at least the paradigm it moved away from and the paradigm that benefited many in its time and place.

Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Such ideas include economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.

Where do we get ideology imposed on us from funded healthcare, education, a Pension, roads, sewers etc? That's a key question...

Is this an effect that came out of movements and times such as the battle for homosexual rights, or marriage etc...things that had many marching in the streets against the liberalisation? That people now think that the government will impose their ideology on them?

Or is it to do with climate change, and the successful PR against a "nanny state" for suggesting making water efficiency higher when building? (Or same nanny state removing defences for excessive physical force used on children?)

What are these decisions people are worrying that others will want to make for them - are we assuming a return to dictatorial societies of the past, e.g. Nazis (hat-tip, Godwin) making breeding decisions for us, Stalinists telling us we must eat one brown and one white loaf of bread, never two white loaves. Are we worrying that Simon Bridges will deny us the right to marry, or to have a peaceful self-elected exit during a terminal illness - that kind of ideology?

At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is NZ is a country with two major parties very close together in ideology and practice. (I feel slightly dirty using both a Keyism and a Bridgesm together in one sentence.)

Ex Expat or should I write nullam ex cerebellum. You have no idea what my ideology is. My prime focus herein has been the imbalance created in home ownership which has become so bad it is a danger to our entire economy and also to our social cohesion. Too many of YOUR type got too greedy and have created a very dangerous ponzi. I have some sympathy for mum and dad investors that merely wished to have a little security in retirement but the empire builders among you have very probably ruined their hopes. Furthermore, this talk of communism in these threads is merely a stupid distraction. Incidentally, I vote on current issues with no allegiance to any party. I consider such attitudes stupid.

No confusion by me.....but much twisting by you!

You seem to be saying that communism can only come in by one method or application........

Think for one moment if you didn't want civil war to take control but wanted to alter the course of a country how would you achieve that? I used Hitler not as hyperbole as Ex Pat suggests, but because worldwide he is known as being one of the best brainwashers that the modern world has quite possibly seen......

If NZ parliamentarians actually followed the 1688 Bill Of Rights we wouldn't be having this conversation.......everyone would be granted their ancient rights.....none of this mob rule BS especially the current mob of whom the majority voted against.........

Actually I hate socialism. I would rather have a free functioning society.
I know what is best for me not Nanny State.

But, but, but, don't you see, the Bureaucrats Know Best? Not you or I, we are only able to see the small circle of own lives, not the Broader Picture that only The Bureaucrat can Envisage.

The left seek to gain and hold power over others, it is a road to serfdom, slavery and misery.

Are you for real?

Setting minimum wage levels, safe working conditions and employee rights is the road to serfdom, slavery and misery? Who for?

Misery for unskilled people shut out by a high minimum wage and replaced by automation.

Is that more or less miserable than low wages and slaving at a mind-numbing repetitive job 50hrs a week to almost cover rent and food and gas?

Yes, yes, and the right seek to push people into gas ovens to achieve great racial outcomes, because they know best and seek to gain and hold power over others. Great comment!

You're the one who made claim to knowledge of how communist states come to be, but then described something unlike how communist states have almost always come to be in the world. No twisting and turning out of that one, sorry mate.

You wouldn't like pure libertarianism nearly so much if you had to start from zero like everyone else. It's another utopia, just like communism.

It's very easy when you've received all the benefits of social democracy but still somehow believe you've done everything on your own, to hark after some free society you've never had to make your way in. When you've received free education and healthcare, to shout that others should pay for it because "freedom".

But it lacks credibility, when you've grown up with the benefits of social democracy and you're going to live out your retirement years with your snout in the trough of social democracy. Nanny state is just an empty ideological canard at that point.

If you hate socialism - don't use the benefits of NZ society, especially the benefit you'd otherwise start drawing at 65. Better yet, move to the USA and start paying for your own healthcare without bludging off the rest of us. Otherwise...just...get real, mate.

Also, consider remedial maths with a focus on percentages and fractions.

.ummmm. Will NZ become a communist state? Most likely, but it will have zilch to do with Labour or the left wing.

It will be due to Chinese domination - something Crusher and the Nats have been quite comfortable in promoting by the way. But inevitable regardless..

Do you have a valid passport?

I'm interested in subscribing to some of the same newsletters you do. For research.

Where can I find them?

Pick and nutjob youtube channel you come across.

Otherwise,

Fox News
Rush Limbaugh radio
Alex Jones radio

3 good starts.

Otherwise you will need something like the Tails operating system and its Tor web browser to get to the real nutters, I hope you have a strong stomach.

This is rubbish.

"intend staying here" does that mean you and your parastic children are leaving? I can but hope.

"numeracy levels of a 12 year old." considering your outstanding display of ignorance that is ironic. (not to mention arrogant, no lets mention it)

How's your juggling for a position on the Politburo going? If a parasite is making your own way in the world then I'm happy to be labelled one! If a parasite is helping others make their own way in the world then I will also be happy to claim that......but we all the know the real truth aye!

It also appears you are rather behind the 8-ball again.....reports on literacy and numeracy levels in NZ were published a week or two ago.....

I think to say that Bridges somehow can relate or grab the "liberal, urban middle class" vote is laughable. He doesn't resonate nor relate to either.

I doubt his roads (and Bridges) only approach as transport minister will help his cause with liberal urbanites.

I agree, the key failure point is "liberal" he is quite the opposite and has no hope IMHO. I would say the truly liberal, urban middle class will not vote for him. What will be and stay behind him is the urban, "I'm all right jack" middle class which is probably a bigger % of the 2 but that commited group doesnt help him win another 7%.

Was about to question if Bridges and liberal should be used in the same sentence. Comes across to me more like someone who is 60+ in a 40 something's skin.

Bridgie has to survival Whaleoil and Lusk. Not right wing enough.

Maybe Bridgie will see Goldsmith into Finance Minister. His Kings boy alter ego.

Dunne is an idiot, the Liberal Urban middle class was not his base he wouldnt know one if he fell over one.

A man of the bowtie and not the fedora, you say?

Sorry, if by "middle class" Peter Dunne means children of working class 1950/60s NZers who bought in a cheaper central city suburb which then became desirable because you can't create more land, then he's dreaming. And believes in resurrection.