Chris Simpson has suddenly gone as manager of the National Party, and Steven Joyce and Jo de Joux are back. According to The Hollow Men they are the team who ran the hidden campaigns with the Exclusive Brethren and the racing industry in the 2005 election.
This is a strategic shift – it has McCully’s fingerprints all over it. Last year their talk was all about the return to the National Party of Holyoake and Bolger. Now that party’s been rolled, that talk is over, and the Hollow Men faction are back.
Colin James described Simpson as a “party man” in the Herald last year in an article about National’s ‘recovery phase.’
National’s first recovery phase, under Brash, relied heavily on marketing — that was Steven Joyce’s strong point. Brash also relied too often to people who either had no more political skill than he had or were not steeped in the party’s ethos. A party is an organism. Brash was an adjunct leader. National’s challenge now is to emulate Labour — to be more a political organism and less a marketing venture, to have a stronger sense of what to do with power and to fill the large gaps in its ranks (Maori, for example) and so make itself “national” — as it was in its post-1945 heyday.
New general manager Chris Simpson is of that more “party” ilk, old hands say. Peter Goodfellow’s replacement of Alan Tower on the board in July injected quiet professionalism. The next need, in good time, is a hard-edged president who builds on Judy Kirk’s restoration of harmony to make a grunty election machine.
It adds up to the politics not of radical change but of incremental improvement and adjustment. It is the politics of the centre, leaning to the right, solidly based in a broad and patient constituency.
Is Key the leader for that? His working life in a back-yourself, lone-ranger industry says no. His thin party background says no.
And now the return of Joyce and de Joux say no. We’re back to the National Party of Holland, Richardson and Brash, as John tries to hide the fact he’s a Don.