I’ve been meaning to write something on Andrea Vance’s very good piece on Simon Lusk. It tells us a lot that we already know: Lusk is the brains behind Slater; Lusk was involved in the demolition of Gilmore; and he’s very tight with the Collins camp. What’s interesting is why he has come out in the public light now. And the messages he is sending to National MPs. The leadership battle is heating up.
Ask yourself a question: why does a notoriously shadowy figure like Lusk suddenly agree to do a big, ‘this is me’ interview? Why come out of the shadows? Why now?
Lusk is a smart guy. This didn’t just happen. He didn’t get tricked into giving an interview. He was sending a message. What was it?
His comments about National players who aren’t considering “the future beyond this administration” let you know.
Even the title of the piece – Seriously happy to upset the status quo – gives you a clue.
This is Collins’ strategy man coming out and giving National’s backbenchers a warning – get on board or you’re in trouble.
He lists some the electorates of some MPs that Collins will need to get the numbers and suggests their seats are vulnerable:
“Hamilton West, East Coast, Napier, New Plymouth, Whanganui, Otaki, Wairarapa and Invercargill, they will have a chance of winning in 2014 . . . In 2017 I would expect Hamilton East, Rotorua and Tukituki to be in play.”
He then lays out the equation the MPs in those seats face, by saying what he would do with weak MPs if he was running Labour:
“If they refused to vacate Hamilton West and East Coast I would tell them they would be given unwinnable list positions, and ask them to review their decision.”
In other words, ‘you lot in soft seats, you better support Collins or when we win you’ll find yourselves with unwinnable list placings, and that’ll be the end of you.
It’s a typical Camp Collins approach – we’re going to win, so get on board or face the consequences. It’s a strategy that works by assuming enough of your targets will be scared into buckling down.
Ironically, (but, also typically, when you think about Slater/Lusk’s writing on Whaleoil) Lusk then turns around and says that Joyce is the one who is a bully to backbenchers: “Unfortunately for Steven, he has not chosen his staff wisely. Some of them lack grace when dealing with backbenchers. Treating those who vote for the leader like something unpleasant on the sole of your shoe is unlikely to see backbench votes fall in behind Steven”
So why now? Why is the cold war getting hot?
Because the trend isn’t looking good for Key. Bugger the recent round of msm polls. You look at the trend and its down. Key’s going more and more negative, because he’s got nothing else to give. Slater is openly talking about National losing the next election and it has become the operating assumption for MPs and media.
If Key loses the next election then the leadership of National becomes an open battle between Collins and Joyce. Neither camp is foolish enough to wait until then to start their maneuvering.
Lusk even hints that Key could be pushed before the election if it suits Collins’ purpose: “there is a simple playbook for replacing a leader” and “I act for individuals, not the party, which gives me the latitude to do what is best for them and the values we share, not what is best for the current party hierarchy . . . I am far more interested in advancing pragmatic, moderate, Centre-Right policy over the next three decades than I am helping any government cling to power.”