I feel like I write too much about National’s problems. But the problem is they keep offering up material. Their party is clearly in deep, deep trouble.
This weekend the party held its Unity Conference. If this was a Unity Conference I would hate to see what a Disunity Conference looks like. And I have been to one or two of those, not for many years but I know what the feeling is like.
They started off rather weirdly with a culturally respectful beginning to the conference. It is as if Judith Collins’ continuous dog whistle blowing in the name of Demanding the Debate was an attention seeking scam. I am pleased that the Party is indeed respectful of Te Ao Maori and that it went as far as singing the National Anthem in Te Reo as well as English even if the Te Reo version has the dreaded word “Aotearoa” in it.
Judith gave her speech. It was a hotchpotch of sound bites and within sentences was able to criticise Labour for doing nothing and doing things too fast. It was also full of what are euphemistically called fibs. Like the claim that banning future exploration of oil and gas has caused the current electricity shortage.
He Puapua received three mentions and the Mongrel Mob received four. We are going to have at least two more years of this.
The Covid response was mentioned along with the word “shambles”. Judith and her speech writers need to read up on what is happening overseas.
There was precious little policy announced, apart from a promise to reverse some of Labour’s changes and hold a tech summit. You get the feeling that if National lasts to 2031 its major policy will be to hold a tech summit.
Collins concluded by saying that “[w]e are better together”. She should tell that to her caucus.
The jaw dropping event was the re-election of Peter Goodfellow as National President. Lefties throughout the country celebrated. More of the same is exactly what is not in National’s interests right now but this is now their problem.
The result caused former Cabinet Minister David Carter to throw his toys out of the cot and publicly resign from the board and express no support for the leadership or for the party’s chances at the next election. From Jane Patterson at Radio New Zealand:
Judith Collins remains party leader and this weekend the board re-elected Peter Goodfellow as president.
Both are under enormous pressure to restore the party’s fortunes but the burden of the 2020 loss is heavy. The 2023 election is “winnable”, assured Collins in her speech, however that remains a distant dream, with her challenge first to fully reunite the caucus and re-engage the voting public.
One man convinced the party has taken a disastrous path keeping Goodfellow on as president is former MP, Cabinet minister and Speaker, David Carter, who broke ranks in a extraordinary manner.
After nine months on the board Carter quit in protest after unsuccessfully contesting the presidency; it was so abrupt Goodfellow had to announce his departure to a clearly surprised crowd in his own speech accepting the position. Carter was already on his way to the airport.
His reasons: “Zero” confidence in Goodfellow, the party will never rebuild under his watch, the board is run in a dysfunctional manner and the money is no longer flowing in.
Not sour grapes, insists Carter, he has plenty going on but won’t “waste time” on a board when he has such a low opinion of the chair.
Collins’s problems continue. A Newshub Reid Research poll states that 47.9% of National supporters think that she should be replaced as leader before the next election. And John Key refused to say that she will win.
But when it comes to endorsements for National leaders, not even some in Collins’ party believe she’s the leader to get them into Government next election.
Key isn’t convinced she’ll hold onto the job for the next election either. He says Collins is “working really hard” as the leader, but wouldn’t answer if he believes she’ll be rolled by the next election.
“Ultimately that’s in the hands of the caucus and the public,” he says.
“I think she’ll be a great prime minister if she gets that opportunity.”
The conference concluded with a dance off between Simon Bridges and Judith Collins. I think Bridges won but only because he made a greater spectacle of himself.
The conference has been compared to the Labour conference of 2012. Having been a participant in what happened at that conference I am in a position to comment. At that conference grass roots organisation managed to get through changes to the party’s constitution that increased the ability for rank and file to have a say in who the party’s leader should be. This was despite the senior levels of the party opposing the changes. Things blew up after that but on the first day a majority of members used their democratic right to make change. This weekend at National’s conference nothing of the sort happened.
And the comparison in the treatment of David Cunliffe then and Simon Bridges now is startling. Cunliffe was demoted and ostracised for not pledging support for Shearer. This year Bridges was able to sell his book at the conference.
All I can say is how pleased I am with National’s conference. Winning the next Election is that much easier thanks to what happened.