The new Opposition

National is beginning a stint in Opposition after nine years in government. This will take some adjusting as the powerful become relatively powerless. They will have a large 56 member caucus, so they could be a force in holding the new government to account, but if not managed well they could factionalise and fight for ascendancy in some sort of new order.

It will be important that they don’t go to negative, and pick their battles wisely, and execute them well – and fairly. A criticism of the outgoing Labour Opposition was their tendency to attack and whinge too much, with ‘barking at every passing car’ becoming a common observation.

Bill English has to adjust from being at the top of the power pyramid, for eight years as Minister of Finance and deputy PM topped by a year as Prime Minister, to battling for attention and relevancy.

English has probably suffered worse before, his disastrous attempt at leading National into the 2002 election. He should have learned lessons from that, both personally and for the party.

Competing leadership ambitions may or may not challenge the party. At this stage English says he has no intention of standing down, a wise choice in the interim at least.

He will be aware of the problems Labour had when Helen Clark announced her exit immediately on losing the election in 2008, and the subsequent floundering of the party for nearly nine years. Just three months ago it looked like Labour could be disintegrating, until Jacinda Ardern took over and dramatically turned things around.

There is no obvious leader-in-waiting in the National caucus.

Steven Joyce has never seemed to have ambitions for the top job (so far) and may be too connected to National’s recent electoral failure in the Northland by-election, and the knarly recent campaign that was probably rescued by English’s performance.

I doubt that the re-confirmed deputy Paula Bennett would be publicly popular enough to rise to the top. She may also find it difficult to fight against some rumours and some dirty sly attacks that have been fomenting mostly outside the public gaze.

I doubt that Judith Collins has anywhere near the caucus or public appeal to make a serious bid.

English may well stay on as leader through to the next election, but he will find it difficult competing if the new generation government led by Ardern is reasonably successful.

At some time, perhaps in about a year, or forced by panic closer to the election if polls go badly for National, someone new will rise to ascendancy and look a good bet. Simon Bridges and Nikki Kaye are mentioned as possibilities but neither look ready for it yet.

One danger is MPs who have been busy as Ministers now with time to foment other ambitions.

There’s no rush for National. I think English is experienced and sensible enough to see out the year and then ease National into Opposition next year, and see how things develop, both with the Government and within his own caucus and party.

It will take some time to see how well National manages it’s time in Opposition. Like the Government in this role they start with a fairly clean slate.

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14 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  26th October 2017

    Good summation, Pete. I see Chris Finlayson has been most gracious in defeat and has talked up Labours contribution to his portfolio. Bill meanwhile has castigated the numbers in Labours caucus. That also was done without malice, more like a dry statement of fact. Good start National.

    Reply
  2. Tipene

     /  26th October 2017

    Lucky people in West Auckland, and it looks like they will be benefiting from the new Govt right out of the starting gates:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11936797

    It probably helps that all of the West Auckland electorates are solid red.

    I think National in opposition will give the “born to rule” crowd a long overdue dose of political and personal humility.

    Those that can’t handle the experience will most likely resign.

    Might also be an idea for National to get some mates for the next MMP Election – ’cause right now, they are sitting ducks for another defeat in 2020.

    How useful would the Conservative Party been to National about a week ago?

    Oh well………………………………….

    Reply
    • Conservative Party – Mr very Strange Colin? Ouch. Not good. Bible classes before bell in all schools

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  26th October 2017

        Not sure how well Col is really actually acquainted with the contents of the Bible, tbh, as things have unravelled. Imagine I’m not the only one to wonder.

        Reply
  3. barryglik

     /  26th October 2017

    A very brave positive assessment here Pete. But we should not forget that National clearly remains the most popular party. National is in opposition because the NZ proportional rep system allows for a small 3rd party to form the government. We must also not forget that it is through the whimsical shameleon Mr peters that we are having this conversation.

    Reply
    • We don’t know if National is the most popular party now they have moved to Opposition. The next polls will be interesting.

      Reply
      • PDB

         /  26th October 2017

        I’d be surprised if the next poll doesn’t show a small lift for National – plenty of NZL First voters feeling shafted by Peters, not just because he went with Labour but for reneging on major campaign promises such as the Maori seat referendum & massive reductions in immigration.

        Reply
  4. Blazer

     /  26th October 2017

    a good summation in the lack of depth in National if it came to replacing…English.Be looking for another parachuter a la Key,right now I imagine.

    Reply
    • PDB

       /  26th October 2017

      The ‘Ardern-killer’ should be put in training now for 2020……

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  26th October 2017

        may be their only hope.Although the farm lobby won’t like her.

        Reply
        • PDB

           /  26th October 2017

          Slater and all those other far-right knobs don’t like her either – hence she must be pretty good.

          Reply
          • He has the touch of death. Everytime he whinges about Labour, climate change or the Greens people need to remind him he voted for the charlatan who anointed the coalition.

            Reply
            • PDB

               /  26th October 2017

              Kaye’s biggest problems if made leader of National would come internally I’d imagine.

  1. The new Opposition — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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