Well, that didn’t take long. A couple of weeks of quiet (probably thanks to some good polls more than anything) and, now, the National Party Civil War has re-erupted as the Collins and Joyce factions fight over the post-Key future.
A few weeks ago, we got tipped off about a candidates’ course for Nats that Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater were going to run in Christchurch. It’s part of their model, seen as dirty by many in the National Party, of identifying potential candidates to take on as clients, and running smear campaigns for them against other Nats for cash. Our stringer fell through and then the Banks stuff blew-up, so we never covered the meeting. But it seems the anti-Lusk leaks kept coming.
Here’s the description of the event we were sent:
2. Council, Community Board, DHB or Consumer Trust? Cam Slater 10.15
And here’s Slater giving the game away, as is his wont, on Facebook:
I bring this up now because of TV3’s piece last night and the Dom’s article this morning. It seems someone has leaked National Party board minutes. There can hardly be a greater breach of the party’s security than having that information in the public eye, except for the leaking of the emails of the leader himself.
The leaking itself highlights the level of factional infighting in National, as do the contents.
The minutes reveal that Micheal Woodhouse has been warning MPs off using Slater/Lusk’s services saying he had had discussions “to let them know it is not appropriate … to engage”. He went on to report a “disturbing discussion that he has had with Simon Lusk that highlighted his motivations and a very negative agenda for the party”.
“Negative agenda” and the names Lusk and Slater go together automatically. The whole modus operandi of the pair is to get in the pay of a prospective National candidate or a company with union troubles and then smear their opponents. So much of this activity is directed against other Nats that it is self-destructive. And it clearly worries senior Nats.
So, what is the “negative agenda for the party” that Woodhouse refers to? Lusk must be feeling pretty confident about the future for his agenda if he is willing to openly discuss it with a senior MP who isn’t aligned to him. And well he might. His machinations have gotten at least a dozen MPs their seats. But Woodhouse’s comments hint at something larger, as does the leaking of the minutes in and of itself.
You can’t help but see this as a continuation of the Collins faction vs the Joyce faction. Lusk and Slater are known to be agents of the Collins faction, and Joyce is known to have particular ill-will for Lusk because of his party-damaging tactics.
Another area of disagreement appears to be on how to treat the Conservative Party. The more liberal Joyce faction sees the need for a rightwing partner and sees space for a separate social conservative party. Party President Peter Goodfellow has been openly courting the Conservatives to fill that space and there is talk of giving them the Rodney electorate next election.
But the Collins faction doesn’t like it. They don’t want a partner party in the socially conservative, Christian space as that’s exactly where they want to take National. They would have preferred a revitalised ACT (remember Slater/Lusk were up to their eyeballs in the Brash coup of ACT).
You can see the evidence in Slater’s writing on the subject. He doesn’t want Mark Mitchell (another Lusk scion) to have to step aside to let Colin Craig win Rodney. He says that Steven Joyce would “do a deal with the devil to preserve his own power, and if this means tanking a seat he will try”. He criticises Joyce for National’s decision not to actively campaign for FPP, which would eliminate the need for National to have governing partners.. He lashes out at Murray McCully saying that if anyone should be giving up his seat for Craig, it should be McCully.
It all comes down to who is going to have the numbers post-Key and, importantly in the National Party, whose MPs will be electorate MPs. A strong Conservative Party could see some Collins faction MPs unseated and potentially out of Parliament in a tighter race with Labour as the socially conservative rightwing vote would be split.
With ACT gone, Slater/Lusk would prefer to see the the right remain monolithic – sucking up all the rightwing vote – and concentrate on screwing over their internal opponents and getting more MPs for the Collins faction. Clearly, other factions within the party are keen to put the spotlight on what they are up to.