The kicker in Andrea Vance’s Blue Blood, her insider’s view of the splatter-movie serial that has been the National Party since John Key stepped down, is that the best yet is in production.
Vance, a press gallery journo, has catalogued National’s hara-kiri that has been in a loop for six years.
She chronicles treachery that has become the modus operandi of the vacuous vipers inhabiting the caucus, as happened within Labour when its political chips were down until redeemer, Jacinda Ardern, arrived. Despite no new, big reveals, details of the dirty work induce you to turn the page for more, which, apparently, we will get shortly.
National’s ideology of personal responsibility and individualism ensures the cast of bad actors grasp any opportunity to advance their black cause.
The modern National Party picks the super ambitious, or overly ambitious, as one MP says of Simon Bridges, Todd Muller and others, and these snakes, who give vipers a bad rap, strike again and again.
Vance’s conclusion is that the honeymoon with Christopher Luxon may be short-lived and Nicola Willis, the woman who has supplanted Judith Collins as Lady MacBeth, has her knife poised.
Luxon’s pragmatism and desire to win back power has papered over the cracks, “but if Luxon’s momentum falters, an impatient caucus will soon look around for another silver bullet”.
Willis, according to one of Team Luxon’s less-than loyal MP colleagues, “is there thinking about her future. She is deeply tactical”.
A weakness of the book is that many of the insiders, who Vance persuaded to blab, do so anonymously, trash-talking their colleagues and employers like social media trolls. In her Acknowledgements, Vance says, “Good people in politics gave up their time for this book – busy and important people,” but I have more than a few doubts about their goodness. She expresses gratitude to those willing to be named and “privately salute those who couldn’t be”, (or wouldn’t be because they had their own agendas).
A more glaring weakness of the book, subtitled The Inside Story of the National Party in Crisis, is Vance’s failure to fully analyse how the National Party got into this state. As Steve Braunias, in his rollicking Newsroom review says, “where is the scrutiny of why it was that a great many in the National Party acted so ruinously, so grubbily, and, more than anything else, so selfishly”.
She brushes the subject when she discusses the role of soon-to-be ex-party president, Peter Goodfellow, in the disastrous party candidate selections. These resulted in what former Collins press secretary, Janet Wilson, describes as the selection of a Chinese government spy, Jian Yang, political bully boy Jami-Lee Ross, private info leaker Hamish Walker, sexter Andrew Falloon and Walter Mitty fantasist Jake Bezzant. There are no doubt multiple other Hitchcock horror operatives lurking, still to be outed.
As Braunias, says, Vance’s book is a kind of tabloid sequel to Nicky Hager’s 2014 exposé, Dirty Politics, with “some of the same cast of ratfuckers” rolling in the “mucilaginous slime of the National Party”. However, she fails, as Hager succeeded, to dissect the consequences of how the candidate-selection process was captured and corrupted by a cabal of radical-right operatives including Simon Lusk, Cameron Slater, Jordan Williams, Carrick Graham, David Farrar and Cathy Odgers, all of whom would feel at home in Donald Trump’s fantasy world.
Most National Party members refused to read Hager’s book, claiming it was simply mudslinging, but that wilful ignorance over selection-gerrymandering and agenda capture has resulted in the clusterfuck that Vance has catalogued.
National Party hack Matthew Hooton in 2021 wrote about the selection process capture for Metro magazine in an article titled The National Party Death Spiral, where he describes how a group of radical Christian evangelicals, dubbed the Taliban, infiltrated the party to replace “mainstream New Zealanders”.
“Without returning to the pre-2003 constitution that allowed for creative destruction by National’s ordinary rank and file, there’s no obvious way out of this vicious cycle that is turning National into a Trump-like cult,” Hooton wrote in September last year.
As well as selecting numerous entitled, bumbling, strivers, National has chosen candidates, who, like Key, think they can run the country like a company.
These include the likes of Nikki Kaye, who Nick Smith claims, “doesn’t know anything” and Todd Muller, who proved unfit to run a corner dairy, but remains a senior member of the party, as well as the current leader.
Vance describes Luxon as an “ideological clean slate”. Vacuous might be a better word. Key pulled strings in Luxon’s selection and elevation, and the former Air NZ CEO says he consults Key frequently. But Vance points out there are crucial differences: “Luxon lacks charisma. Instead, he has excelled in projecting a bland, corporate image.”
Like Muller, Luxon, according to one of his colleagues, suffers from a “it’s so bloody easy disease,” with a naivety about the realities of governing compared with the comparatively easy task of being a corporate executive. His fellow MP is quoted as saying: “He’s got this quite superficial view of how the world works and is quite prone to the latest McKinsey idea.”
He is also castigated by former fellow execs for his pattern of short-term intense focus before boredom, frustrations and a lack of task completion sets in.
Vance discusses Luxon’s attempts to distance his religious views from his politics, but she fails to address his glaring lack of judgement in joining the cult-like evangelical Upper Room church. Luxon has never repudiated that church’s then pastor, Craig Heilmann’s, extremist, far, right views. All he has said is that he hasn’t been part of a church for some years.
Despite several early missteps, such as referring to Matariki as “mataangi”, Luxon’s rolling of Collins has seen a revival in National’s polling. However, that revival is faltering as the party’s DNA of ill-discipline, disunity, incompetence and ratfucking bubble like bread starter.
Deposed former leader Bridges, placated by being given the finance portfolio, abandoned ship shortly after disagreeing on Luxon’s first policy announcement, on the pivotal issue of tax. He joins other experienced former ministers including, Steven Joyce, Nikki Kaye, Paula Bennett, Amy Adams and Chris Finlayson who saw their future elsewhere.
Bridge’s brother-in-law, Simon O’Connor, put a decent-sized spanner in Luxon’s engine with his “this is a good day” commentary on the recent Roe vs Wade US Supreme Court decision. He managed to rile the 70-odd percent of Kiwis appalled at the decision, while reigniting the meme on National’s ill-discipline (his statement wasn’t never cleared with the party), as well as lasering media attention on Luxon’s weird view that abortion is “tantamount to murder”.
Polling by Taxpayers’ Union pollster Curia showed Luxon’s personal rating took a 6-point dive and National’s polling also reversed its uptrend.
Luxon himself hasn’t been averse to scoring own goals. While in London, timed nicely to watch the Tories dethrone Boris Johnson and indulge in a all-in gladiatorial contest to tear each other to bits, he stirred up his own constituency by labelling Aotearoan businesses as “soft”.
That prompted David Cormack of DraperCommack Group to write a column for BusinessDesk to detail the former soap salesman’s complete absence of risk-taking in his corporate career.
“At no stage was Christopher Luxon’s salary dependent on Christopher Luxon himself, going out and finding business, just to stay afloat. He’s always had people either above or below him to do that,” Cormack wrote.
Team Luxon scored another own goal this week when staff posted a video of him supposedly visiting businesses in Te Puke when in truth, he was holidaying in Key’s old stamping ground, Hawaii. Sprung, his first instinct was to lie, denying the video was misleading. Hours later he had to call in reporters to admit “We made a mistake.” There were shades of Todd Muller caught in the headlights in Luxon’s body language.
Luxon’s political naivety will likely see more snafus, ebbing confidence and rising mental stress. Vance notes his new broom has failed to sweep away tensions within the party. She quotes one source, presumably a fellow MP, saying that whether National becomes Labour-lite or slashes and burns is unsettled. “What’s the fucking point of being in Government? Is National going to come in again and just manage everything Labour’s done?”
Not only does National still contain Judith Collins, with her suicide bombing tendency, nearly all the factions listed by Vance – the Taliban, the Ratfuckers, the Four Amigos, the class of 17, the Playground Losers Club, the Brat Pack – are still around to divide and mutate like a corona virus.
Luxon may still pilot the party to victory next year, but you wonder whether he will last until then, and if he did happen to last, and even win, what is likely to achieve?
Blue Blood: The Inside story of the National Party in crisis by Andrea Vance (Harper Collins) is available nationwide in bookstores for $35
(Simon Louisson reported for The Wall Street Journal, AP Dow Jones Newswires, New Zealand Press Association and Reuters and briefly worked as a political and media adviser to the Green Party.)
Edited 1625 2020-07-28