National leadership – safe option or risk?

National support stayed remarkably high throughout their three terms in government, barely changing when John Key stood down and Bill English took over. This was partly due to the performance of National – voters tend to prefer steady, sound and predictable governance – and partly due to the weakness of the Opposition, especially Labour’s failure to find a leader who appealed, until Jacinda Ardern took over.

Labour chose steady but uninspiring Phil Goff after Helen Clark lost in 2008 and resigned, and made no real progress for three years. They then flirted with more radical options, David Shearer then David Cunliffe, but the former failed to rise to the occasion and the latter was too flawed (and disliked). They went back to steady but uninspiring with Andrew Little and were tanking leading into last year’s election, until Ardern took over and turned things around dramatically.

Now National is in Opposition ‘steady as she goes’ may not be such a good option.

They may feel that ‘same old’ will maintain their support and get them back into government in 2020, but Ardern has changed to whole political vibe. Unless Ardern and Labour stuff up badly National with ‘same old’ may find it very difficult to appeal sufficiently.

Running a ‘same old’ style leader and party against a first term government is high risk for National. The last time a government only lasted one term was 1972-75, when Labour failed to survive after Norm Kirk died in office.

Steven Joyce hasn’t put his hat in the leadership ring yet, but as he worked closely alongside Key and English, he would be seen as ‘same old’. He is reasonable competent but is unlikely to inspire, so I think he would be a high risk option.

There are a couple of ‘change a bit’ options standing, Amy Adams and Simon Bridges. Both promise to be a change, Bridges claiming to be a generational change to try to compete head to head with Ardern. Both would probably be safe-ish choices for National, but safe is going to struggle to compete. Neither looks likely to wow the voters, and that would be a problem for a first term Opposition struggling for attention.

As big a risk as Joyce, but for a very different reason, is Judith Collins. She would be likely to change the look of National significantly, and she would get much more media attention, both positive and negative. She has already got much more media attention than Bridges and Adams, and on top of that seemed to be prepared and is running with a social media campaign as well.

Collins promises to shake up Ardern and the Government, and she would probably succeed to an extent. However she would also shake up the National caucus and party, something they may be reluctant to allow. It is reported that Collins isn’t in favour with senior National MPs, still. It has also been reported that she has been working the back benches, but may not have swung many of them yet. There are also a big unknown, the allegiances of their new MPs.

Collins is in the category of high risk and possible high reward or crash and burn. I’d be tempted to give her a crack to break to first term opposition hoodoo, but the National caucus that chooses a new leader may be too cautious and too timid.

Labour took risks with each of their five leaders in Opposition, and finally hit the jackpot with Ardern in a high risk leadership switch just before the election (albeit aided in a significant way by Winston Peters and NZ First).

Any new choice of leader is a risk. As always the actual leadership qualities of each of the candidates is unknown until one of them takes over.

It is also unknown in advance how united or factionalised the caucus will be under a new leader. Successful leaders minimise factional friction by looking decisive, by being successful in scoring hits against the Government, and scoring good poll results.

National MPs have to make a choice on the level of risk they are prepared to take. Being too conservative is probably as big a risk as being too radical, if not more, because conservative Oppositions tend to be ignored by voters in first term.

29 Comments

  1. Missy

     /  February 18, 2018

    I personally think that National has to go with a woman leader.

    Considering the modern left’s obsession with classing any criticism of a woman by a man as misogyny and the idea that women need to be protected from the evil male, the only way anyone will be able to take on Ardern and not cop a lot of backlash in the sycophantic media is if they aren’t male – though that isn’t guaranteed, but it will dull the criticism.

  2. Corky

     /  February 18, 2018

    Thank god this is happening now, in opposition. Imagine a fourth term National government with a tired Winston in tow fighting the 2020 election. They would be annihilated.

    As it is, most voters have fond memories of National, as the polls have shown. Those polls may dip some in opposition, but as folk tire of bubblegum Jacinda and socialist bs takes hold, those polls will bounce back for a National win in 2020…provided National swallow a dead rat and vote in Collins as their leader. The good news, as Jacinda has shown, is even months out from an election you can change leaders and still win.

    • Phil

       /  February 19, 2018

      Yes please go with Collins she is guaranteed to keep National in the opposition for years to come , dirty politics and things like the double double in revenge are rarely forgotten.

  3. Blazer

     /  February 18, 2018

    Collins Auckland/female/aged needs a Sth Is /young/male to complement.Who else is…there.Collins has momentum,and a husband with a chinese sounding…surname.Happy days.

  4. Gezza

     /  February 18, 2018

    Heather du Plessis-Allan: Judith Collins is the right person for the job, for now at least

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11995791

    • Gezza

       /  February 18, 2018

      From the article:
      “… A week ago I would never have said that. I would’ve told you Crusher was too intimidating. Too fierce. Too right wing. Too tarnished.

      But, in one way or another, each of those things either doesn’t matter, or are exactly why she should be elected leader of the National Party. Judith Collins may be the only person in National capable of knocking holes in Labour’s biggest asset: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

      The Prime Minister’s greatest attribute is that she is nice. More than that, she’s the nicest. No one can out-nice her. She’s nice, her partner is nice, her baby will be nice. She’s so nice, she’s managed to forge a whole political career without actually doing anything. No, really. What has she done?

      In the face of criticism, Ardern just says nice, reassuring things that sound like answers and thus cruises through.

      Collins is possibly the only National MP with the skills to bloody the PM’s political nose. She has the aptitude and the attitude for the job. She can get dirty. She can be mean. She can do low blows and cutting comments while smiling like it didn’t just happen.

      But — and it’s a big but — if she does knock the PM around, she’ll never be forgiven for it. Mean girls earn respect, but never love. Collins may make enough crucial dents in the public’s regard for the PM, but she’ll suffer for it.

      So, electing Collins must come with the understanding that this is a fixed-term contract. Once Collins has done her work, she’ll need to stand aside. She’ll need to be a martyr for her party. The political equivalent of Hodor in Game of Thrones, Leo in Titanic, Jesus in the Bible.
      … ”

      From a purely strategic viewpoint, I think she’s right. This is the choice they should make, for now, but Collins is a bad bet for Leader for the next election.

      • David

         /  February 18, 2018

        Hard to argue with the article, Hoskings was in a similar vein this week too, but National had become so risk averse in government the newer MPs might be ready to actually do something but the ultra cautious cabinet will freak out.

        • robertguyton

           /  February 19, 2018

          “Hoskings was in a similar vein”
          You mean “vain”, right?

      • Chuck Bird

         /  February 18, 2018

        No one knows if she is a bad bet for Leader next election. If National is polling very high she is. If National is not polling high she isn’t.

        • Gezza

           /  February 18, 2018

          That’s true, but it all depends on whether Labour make progress on crime reduction, improved housing & social housing supply, health & mental health service improvements, roading/transport infrastructure deficiencies, wages & income increases exactly how Collins & National will poll against Ardern & Labour. If they’re close, Collins is too Conservative/authoritarian to be appealing to many as PM.

        • Blazer

           /  February 18, 2018

          uncanny….so profound.

          • robertguyton

             /  February 19, 2018

            “Collins is possibly the only National MP with the skills to bloody the PM’s political nose”
            Thugs.
            Thuggery”
            Thugby!
            Rugby!
            Collins – the next captain of the All Blacks (Key was the last).

      • PDB

         /  February 18, 2018

        Ardern well summed up in this statement: “The Prime Minister’s greatest attribute is that she is nice. More than that, she’s the nicest. No one can out-nice her. She’s nice, her partner is nice, her baby will be nice. She’s so nice, she’s managed to forge a whole political career without actually doing anything. No, really. What has she done?
        In the face of criticism, Ardern just says nice, reassuring things that sound like answers and thus cruises through.”

        Maybe Collins batters & damages the Ardern ‘nice but no idea’ armour for a year and a half and then the next (more inclusive/palatable) National leader comes in and lands the fatal blow.

        • robertguyton

           /  February 19, 2018

          “What has she done?”
          Won the role as Leader of the country?
          (Oh. That )

          • Re writing history again I see Robert, but that is par for the course for you. As Fran O’Sullivan wrote “…..the only reason we have a 37-year-old female Prime Minister is because a septuagenarian put her there. “

            • robertguyton

               /  February 19, 2018

              Oh, Chris, you mis-informed fellow! Btw, your claim about Metiria and her initiating the meetings and your subsequent slighting of my honesty is wrong; completely wrong. Wanna go down that track? I’m on if you are 🙂 I’ll show you, through the link you supplied, that you’ve mis-understood. No blame, it happens frequently around here 🙂

            • chrism56

               /  February 19, 2018

              My My, you are still touchy, aren’t you. I reported what the newspapers wrote. If they are wrong,do not quote them.

          • robertguyton

             /  February 19, 2018

            Chris – Jacinda didn’t win the position? Do tell! She’s not Prime Minister of NZ? Let’s hear from you! Go, you good thing!

  5. David

     /  February 18, 2018

    Didnt think I would ever say this but I think Collins is exactly what they need. Dont think it will take that much to burst the Jacinda bubble either but that is dependent somewhat on the press gallery returning to earth.

  6. Zedd

     /  February 18, 2018

    methinks Judith is the best option out of the current lot, BUT 2020 election is still nearly 3 years away.. a LOOOONG time in politics; maybe there could be several more changes in the interim ? 😀

    they need a Leader, not a load of ‘bluff & bluster’ (not naming anyone, specific)…

    • PDB

       /  February 18, 2018

      Presume you are talking about Winston and not Ardern? Hard to tell.

  7. NOEL

     /  February 18, 2018

    It doesn’t matter who leads the opposition now. It’s not until firm polls indicate preference in the months leading to the election that the choice become critical.

    • robertguyton

       /  February 19, 2018

      NOEL is correct. This game is a pointless side-track.

  8. PartisanZ

     /  February 18, 2018

    It says an awful lot about both the National Party and Aotearoa New Zealand’s dysfunctional democracy when ‘Crusher’ Collins is the “safe option” …

    “Give me a break!”

    “Yeah? Where do you want it? Your arm, your leg … your neck!?”

    “No ……… my heart … “

  9. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 18, 2018

    I suspect the only thing standing in Collins’ path now is that she terrifies the Nats as much as Labour. Wonder who she would choose as deputy? Someone to soften her rough edges?

    • PartisanZ

       /  February 18, 2018

      Who would be prepared to be her deputy? I suspect Bridges will decline? Joyce?

      Mark Mitchell? But then, as Blazer so cogently pointed out, “who will play good cop”?

      If the selection process is anything like that which chose first Mike Sabin, then Mark Osborne then Matt King for Northland, National will essentially be digging a 6 foot deep grave for themselves …

      I mean, what kind of recommendation for leader is “she terrifies the Nats as much as Labour” … She terrifies her own Party …?

      Hmmmmmm … I guess that is a sought after quality in despotic, authoritarian dictators …?

      And heck, Muldoon did it …

  10. Blazer

     /  February 19, 2018

    Mark Mitchell….’ Jacinda Ardern’s vision lacks any substance. She has no clear plan for this country and her government is making it up as it goes along. This simply isn’t good enough.’

    vision/plans???where has he been the…last 9 years.

    • Phil

       /  February 19, 2018

      Making it up as they go along is a National trait along with forgetfulness and evasiveness.