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What are National up to?

Written By: - Date published: 1:05 pm, September 6th, 2008 - 17 comments
Categories: election 2008 - Tags:

A puzzled reader sent me this question – what is National up to?

  1. Their environment policy is leaked, and John Key says that one of his staff must have left it lying around in a café (and now their Conservation policy too?)
  2. Their transport spokesperson muses about $50 a week tolls and putting tolls back on the Auckland Harbour bridge, and is told off by his leader for being ‘over-exuberant’
  3. Their deputy leader says that they will sell Kiwibank ‘eventually’, and then apologises for ‘not choosing his words carefully’
  4. Their spokesperson for industrial relations says that they will reduce the employers’ contribution to Kiwisaver, and then her leader claims they won’t be making any changes
  5. Their deputy leader even thinks that their leader doesn’t understand Working for Families!

It seems that no-one knows National are up to. Not even National. Even Fran O’Sullivan is expressing doubts:

“unfortunately New Zealand’s conservative leader John Key would rather indulge his crush on Obama, than directly mix it by contesting Helen Clark with a clear agenda of his own.”

It’s not long until the MPs will leave Parliament and hit the streets. Let’s see of the National caucus can keep itself together til then.And for those who will say it is all in Labour’s imagination that there’s a leak within National, this line from TV3’s story last night should give some pause for thought:

“3 News can also reveal we were informed of John Key’s meeting on Monday with British billionaire Lord Ashcroft because of a leak from within the National Party.

So Key’s claims of a simple mistake might not be so simple after all.”

17 comments on “What are National up to? ”

  1. Pascal's bookie 1

    With regard to the contradictions between spokespeeps and leadership, I was thinking about how it plays amoung low information voters.

    For the large number of people that aren’t politics junkies they hear the claims and reversals and think ok, the reversal is the policy. Fair enough. If they agree with either side of the positions taken there is room for comfort.

    Give it a couple of years and either position is tenable, the detail has been forgotten.

  2. Lew 2

    PB: Are you arguing that National are trying to have it both ways? That mid-term, National can plausibly come out and say `before the election, we promised to cut compliance costs on employers by reducing the employer contribution to Kiwisaver’, and have most people go `oh, I seem to remember something like that …’?

    That’s even more conspiratorial than I was waxing yesterday!


  3. Anita 3

    Has anyone else heard that National MPs are recording their campaign meetings (including mixed party meet-the-candidates ones)? It’s third hand for me (so well suspect) but it doesn’t sound beyond the realms of possibility.

  4. Anita 4


    For the large number of people that aren’t politics junkies they hear the claims and reversals and think ok, the reversal is the policy. Fair enough. If they agree with either side of the positions taken there is room for comfort.

    I read some analysis of John Howard’s use of “I can understand their position…” which had the same sense. Someone would say something very socially conservative, and Howard would get to be a reasonable moderate when he disagreed (pulling it back to only socially conservative) but also getting the socially conservative votes by using “I can understand…”.

    I recommend Marion Maddox’s God Under Howard to everyone; very neat parallels with some National strategy here.

  5. Pascal's bookie 5

    Lew, I don’t think it’ll be anything so blatant. I was thinking more about message, keeping the right wing from going to ACT while not scaring the horses. No one can say National didn’t want to do this, only that they said they wouldn’t yet.

    Later, depending on the shape of Parliament, those policies may be tenable. They are on the table as things National is considering, leadership can plausibly say that hey we weren’t prepared to go there yet but the electorate gave us a coalition with ACT. They knew we had these sympathies in any case so there’s ya mandate.

    Not so much outright having it both ways, just prepping the battle field and keeping options open.

  6. r0b 6

    I think what we’re seeing are the obvious effects of (1) policy being in the hands of a very small inner core with spokespeople out of the loop, and (2) that policy being a secret agenda that the inner core are desperately trying to hide behind a bland Labour-lite facade. This creates all the conditions necessary for the kind of incompetent incoherence that we are seeing…

  7. monkey-boy 7

    I think the evidence suggests that they aren’t ‘up to’ anything – rather they are too incompetent to be entrusted with running anything more demanding than cake-stall.

  8. forgetaboutthelastone 8


    But the Nats had most of the same people last election and they didn’t fuck-up as often or as badly as they are now (if memory serves me rightly).

    So we could blame it all on JK but then Don Brash wasn’t exactly a political genius.

    So we know that the Nats are capable of running a reasonably well organised campaign. What’s the difference this time around? By deceiving both the voting public and the wider National party they have made things very difficult for themselves. It was much easier for the Nats last time when they could just be honest about what they believed and what they wanted to do.

    Honesty is always the best policy.

  9. Rex Widerstrom 9

    Pascal’s bookie: There’s only one thing wrong with your otherwise quite credible theory. It’d require a degree of forward planning and strategic foresight of which National has proven itself utterly incapable.

    Remember, where the possibilities are cock-up or conspiracy it’s usually safer to assume the former. Especially when your suspects are tools 😀

  10. Lew 10

    I agree in the general case – that cock-up is more likely than conspiracy – but I think it’d be unwise to misunderestimate National. Key isn’t a fool, and he’s not backed by fools.


  11. Anita 11


    Perhaps the differences are:

    1) A larger caucus: so much harder to control.

    2) A caucus full of senior MPs who resent Key as a newcomer (Brash was a newcomer to parliament but not a newcomer to the political sphere). Perhaps even for his wealth (he was out there swanning around earning the big bucks while they were slogging it out in parliament, and now he’s getting all the glory).

    3) The arrogance of a party who’s sure they’ll win so don’t need to try. The 2005 Nats knew it was going to be tough (which probably lead to discipline) the 2008 ones seem convinced they’ll win so are lining up for the after-election jostling and policy implementation.

  12. Quoth the Raven 12

    There is also the fact that John Key said there will be “no changes” to WfF publicly and then Bill English getting caught on tape saying there will be.

  13. And despite National doing all this, they are still trouncing Labour in the Polls.

  14. Dancer 14

    Hi Anita – i had heard of someone who’d gone to a candidate meeting where the Nat MP told the audience she had to run her speeches past the Nat comms unit, and record it. Seems like over-control in some aspects and lack of control in others!
    Brett, obviously National is still ahead in the polls but a)there’s a trend of Labour on the rise and National dropping and b) it looks like National is going to need a coalition partner or two, and that’s a whole new world for realities for them (and their caucus).

  15. forgetaboutthelastone 15

    And because of National doing all this, they are losing their lead over Labour in the Polls.


  16. Anita 16


    i had heard of someone who’d gone to a candidate meeting where the Nat MP told the audience she had to run her speeches past the Nat comms unit, and record it. Seems like over-control in some aspects and lack of control in others!

    Sounds like the same candidate (National has so few women 🙂

    I would be very curious about what a National candidate would do if a person in the audience said they were not giving the candidate permission to record anything they said (questions obviously, but maybe also heckling).

  17. Phil 17


    “… the Nat MP told the audience she had to run her speeches past the Nat comms unit…”

    I believe that standard practice for senior officials within government departments and corporates. Not over-control, but good management.

    If it doesn’t happen in other parties, I’d be very suprised.

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