You would think that the conference held immediately after National suffered one of its worst drubbings in its history National would take the opportunity to refresh its leadership and change its direction.
If you did you will be disappointed.
In a speech, Goodfellow began by thanking leader Judith Collins saying members “couldn’t be prouder” of her, to which the room clapped.
Goodfellow then went on to both praise and slam the Labour Government’s COVID-19 response and election campaign.
He said “reasoned debate became treasonous” during the campaign and it was a race of celebrity.
Goodfellow then went on to “give credit where credit is due” and praised Jacinda Ardern for her clear communication over the COVID-19 crisis.
In nearly the same breath, he characterised the daily COVID-19 updates as being “televangelistic”.
He finished his speech with a call for the National Party to rebuild and reunite over the next three years.
This is Trumpian in the quality of its analysis. Slamming the response of Labour’s Covid response is weird. As the virus ravages through most of the world New Zealand’s response stands out like a beacon. And there was lots of debate during the campaign. We even had minor parties peddle conspiracy theories out in plain sight. The problem was not with free speech being treasonous, it was because the quality of the speech was so poor.
And Goodfellow’s analysis is so shallow. Fancy praising Ardern’s clear communications but rubbishing the Government’s overall response.
But don’t take my word for this. National activist Ben Thomas thinks the same. From Radio New Zealand:
[F]ormer National staffer said Goodfellow was completely out of touch with voters.
Political commentator Ben Thomas said Goodfellow was putting personal gain above the party’s interests.
“He attacked the media and attacked Ardern, and called those Covid briefings a symptom of tyranny. Which is playing to the National Party’s base which is at that AGM that he wants to re-elect him as National Party president, but sounds ridiculous to the wider public, including all of those voters who deserted National to go to Labour.”
Then Judith spoke.
She urged unity, presuming behind her as leader. She urged her spokespeople to be bold but then trotted out the traditional National themes of government wasteful spending, the shackles holding back innovation and entrepreneurship, the failure of imagination, the lack of ambition, and the tolerance for bland mediocrity.
Apart from a token reference to the high tech sector there was no substance in what she said.
John Key also spoke. What he said contrasts jarringly with Goodfellow’s analysis. From Claire Trevett at the Herald:
Key was a guest speaker at the party’s first big gathering since the election, and used it to thump in the home truths about the reasons for the election loss. In short: themselves.
It is usually possible to gauge how far a party has come to terms with a dire election result from the length of time it takes for someone to blame the media and their political opponents for it.
In National’s case, that was not long. It came from President Peter Goodfellow, who railed against what he saw as the “clickbait” and bias of the media. He then launched into the “temporary tyranny” of Jacinda Ardern’s Covid-19 response, her “celebrity” leadership and “tele-vangelical” addresses to the nation.
There was only a fleeting reference to the woes National had brought upon itself.
It was a speech that seemed to show Goodfellow had learned very little about the reasons 2020 brought National to its knees in the first place – or why New Zealanders had thronged to vote for Ardern.
It was a gob-smacking speech. The interesting thing is the party faithful did not seem to buy it.
There was a deathly silence from the 600-odd packed into the room while Goodfellow was going through his tirade. It is likely some quietly agreed with him, but there was no spontaneous applause or murmurs of agreement.
Key’s response to the election result was entirely different.
His speech was not the usual platitudes and diplomatic expressions of support a former leader usually offers.
He delivered a stonker. He told them they had lost 413,800 voters, and he told them why. He told them their voters had flocked to Labour and to Act because of National’s disunity and leadership changes.
He warned them not to assume Ardern’s popularity would wane, because that was a mistake Labour made about him for almost a decade.
And he told them that Labour would spend the next three years focusing on keeping those 413,800 voters, and that it was clever enough to do just that. He set out the prospect National would lose again in 2023, 2026 and 2029.
He said the party needed a plan and a strategy: “Trust me when I tell you, hope is not a strategy.”
But the loudest applause was in response to Key’s warning to any National Party MPs leaking to the media. “If you can’t quit your leaking, quit the party.”
Astoundingly Goodfellow was returned as President. Lots of lefties cheered as that.
And as part of its reinvigoration it elected David Carter, former MP since 1993 onto its board. Renewal huh. Carter had sought presidency of the party but lost to Goodfellow.
I thought it would only be a matter of time before Collins was rolled. Given events on the weekend and the party’s clear inability to do something radical I am not so sure.