Messy start but Muller still has opportunity to make a mark

Todd Muller’s first week as leader of the National Party was messy and in some ways mucked up, but he still has an opportunity to make a mark as leader of the Opposition, and maybe rescue his party from a downward slide, and just maybe give Labour some real competition in this year’s election.

Some of the maelstrom faced by Muller was due to media getting bored with Covid coverage (“breaking news” of no more cases wears a bit thin day after day) and looking for some controversy and drama. They managed to manufacture some, and Muller and his team made that easy.

But most of it was a lot of noise about bugger all. No journalist is expected or required to be at their best in their first week on the job, it takes a while for them to make drama out of dregs.

Of course some on the left revelled in the ruckus making, that’s they way politics works (unfortunately) – it’s a game of dumping on opponents.

Some of the criticism of Muller came from the right as well, but Mike Hosking and the guy Richardson dissing Muller was hardly a damning indictment.

And Damien Grant, barely a middling journalist promoted several rungs above his level of competence thinks that Todd Muller confirms himself as a middle manager promoted several rungs above his level of competence.

The debacle over the MAGA cap, the lack of diversity in the front bench and Muller’s failure to articulate not just an economic agenda but even an idea confirmed what many of his detractors, this columnist included, had already concluded; he was a middle manager promoted several rungs above his level of competence.

The MAGA cap was largely over hyped crap, I’m surprised Grant seems to think that the front bench should represent everyone who doesn’t vote for National (I suspect he would grizzle about anything seen as ‘token’ appointments), and expecting to Muller have a comprehensive economic agenda ready to publish and promote on day one is just plain nuts.

We have a major problem with lazy journalists wanting instant stories.

Demands for an instant miracle from journalists would be better directed at their own industry, which is in much worse condition than Muller’s leadership and National’s current poll dip.

There is time for Muller to find his feet as leader, work out with his caucus and party their key policy priorities to promote in time for the election campaign.

Not much time, but there is time. Muller may still turn out to be a failed muppet, but he should at least be given a chance to prove himself.

Andrea Vance has a much better look at the current situation in Could middle-of-the road Muller come out a winner?

By the end of last week, Todd Muller was looking like one of the losers.

The Wellington commentariat had largely decided his first week as National leader was uniformly awful.

These conversations reverberated around the square mile of Pipitea, and Muller was found wanting.

It is perplexing why Team Muller had such a clumsy start, after plotting for months, and assembling a artful team of insiders that includes PR practitioner Matthew Hooton and dark-arts kingmakers Crosby Textor.

But the subjective judgements of a handful of Beehive pundits on perceived performance flaws, are now more insignificant than ever.

An economic shock has ricocheted around the world. Voters are consumed with worry about their jobs, mortgages and how to pay their bills.

In a political environment where most people would struggle to name the Cabinet, it’s hard to see people getting too exercised about the make-up of the Opposition’s front bench, or which keepsakes a leader displays on his shelf.

Most people would struggle to name the first five ranked Cabinet Ministers (I can’t), or even the first three (I could only guess at number 3 but at least I will know a little of them when I find out).

There was no discernible Muller vision. No priorities for his first few months in office. And no bold, alternative ideas for the post-coronavirus economic recovery.

And there is no reason why Muller should have had this level of detail ready to spoon feed journalists from day one. That’s a ridiculous expectation.

What actually is Jacinda Ardern’s vision?

What are her priorities for the next few months, apart from keeping us in level 2 and winning the election?

What are her bold, alternative ideas for the post-coronavirus economic recovery? If journalists should be looking anywhere for these right now it should be from Ardern and her Government.

While trust in Ardern is high, Labour still strive for economic credibility, after a decade of doubt over their fiscal capability.

So why expect, demand this of Muller in his first week in the Opposition leader’s office?

In the face of soaring unemployment and plummeting house prices, middle voters may pause for thought. People who care passionately about inequality, over-tourism and climate change in the good times, tend to be less progressive when their personal economic circumstances are shaken.

If National can play on that doubt: and convince centre voters they must make a choice between which priority they value the most, then middle-of-the road Muller may just come out a winner.

Unfortunately a lot may depend on how much slack they keep giving the Government because of their admiration of Ardern. And how much nit picking of Muller they over-dramatise.

But that’s the nature of our politics and our media.  Like it or not Muller and National have to find a way of dealing with that semi-successfully.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  31st May 2020

    Muller has given Winston a free ride where he should have been. His strategy seems to be an attempt to outspend Labour while claiming to be a better manager. The jury is still out on whether he has a team or a shipload of backstabbers.

    As a starting week it wasn’t great.

  2. Corky

     /  31st May 2020

    ”It is perplexing why Team Muller had such a clumsy start, after plotting for months, and assembling a artful team of insiders that includes PR practitioner Matthew Hooton and dark-arts kingmakers Crosby Textor.”

    That really bugs me. How could this happen given anyone on this blog, apart from a couple, could have given Muller a heads up on what to expect and what vision should be expressed and conveyed to the public along with a sample policy to show National is on their game. Unfortunately the policy was released after the event.

    One things for sure – the glasses have to go. He either has laser surgery; gets contacts or goes down the stylish Paul Goldsmith route.

    • “One things for sure – the glasses have to go.”

      Looking over his glasses looked last century. He just needs to get progressive lenses.

      • Corky

         /  31st May 2020

        Looks like you nailed it, Pete:


        ”Progressive lenses are no-line multifocal eyeglass lenses that look exactly the same as single vision lenses. In other words, progressive lenses will help you see clearly at all distances without those annoying (and age-defining) “bifocal lines” that are visible in regular bifocals and trifocals”

        First time I have heard of progressive lenses. It would seem Muller’s team are also in the dark regarding progressive lenses.

        • I’ve hd progressive lenses for ten years. They are great for most things. The focus is correct for distance viewing when looking straight ahead through the middle of the lense, and also right for reading when looking down through the lower part of the lense. That would solve Muller’s problem.

          But they aren’t perfect – close work looking up is hopeless, for example working on a ceiling light fitting, or on the house working up a ladder, because the top of the lense is for distance viewing.

          • On occasion I put mine on upside down to deal with that problem…

            I think it’s fair enough to expect more from Muller from the get go. This wasn’t an appointment due to the untimely death of the leader. He’s been plotting. If he’s been plotting then he must be unhappy with the Bridges messaging. If he’s unhappy with the Bridges messaging you’d think he would have a bunch of “if I ruled the world” alternatives in the bag.

            To execute a coup, then stand there going “oh, now what?” is careless. Do we need a careless leader of the opposition? Or was the title the objective? If that is the case we’re stuffed.

            When the press gallery all gathered twittering about racial diversity and the MAGA the correct response would have been to tell them to eff off. In those words. An alternative would have been to fire back a withering “is that the biggest problem you can come up with? Really?” and stalked off. But trying to placate them? What a losing strategy.

            That week better be an abberation. Or the “loser” moniker might stick

            • Corky

               /  31st May 2020

              I was about to ask how you tape your glasses to your ears. Then I had an idea. I put my sunnies on upside down, and they fitted nice and snug. That you would be look upwards would make your glasses more secure.

            • I imagine that someone who’s been in politics as long as Todd Muller has doesn’t look for advice on how to run a party, what to expect as a new leader or what sort of glasses he should wear from a blog. If he wants advice, he will have plenty of people who know what they are talking about.

              If he doesn’t want laser surgery, he’s under no obligation to have it or use contact lenses.

              Progressive lenses have been around for years, but don’t suit everyone, any more than contact lenses do.

            • Progressive lenses as we know them have been around for almost 40 years.

            • Corky

               /  31st May 2020

              ‘If he wants advice, he will have plenty of people who know what they are talking about.”

              Well, that’s debatable isn’t it. I can’t find the photo of him peering over the top of his glasses. But it made him look like a frumpy headmaster.

            • Gezza

               /  31st May 2020

              Some pollies can get away with it if they & their specs can look Churchillian, but not if they look more like Schumer.

              Muller needs to get a few professional image-maker photos & videos taken & get advice on his public presentation. The folksy manner has been staked out by Ardern.

              Whether he has the brains & fire to do his new job looks questionnable – so far he’s tinkering around the edges, & looking pretty lost for policy ideas & a political philosophy that’ll ring with voters.

            • Corky

               /  31st May 2020

              . Agree.

            • I think that his glasses are a minor issue, and he’d be a fool to look like the male version of Ardern’s mumsy look. At least she is looking a bit more professional lately, even if she does look like a bank teller.

  3. lurcher1948

     /  31st May 2020

    Todd will run NZ if he gets a chance just like his party,a total shambles,he just needs to double down more,put his MAGA on,grow a comb over if he can and become more popular than 5%..

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  31st May 2020

      Good advice, Lurch. But he won’t need the comb over if he wears the cap.

    • Corky

       /  31st May 2020

      The time to wear his MAGA cap was at his first Beehive interview. He should have told the assembled media muppets that they have a choice to either concentrate on a inconsequential souvenir.. or start concentrating on important issues. He could then have taken the cap off and either put it on the head of one muppet..or dramatically spun it to one of his underlings and got on with business … hopefully case closed. If not, guess who would eventually look like dorks.

      Lurchy, I’m downticking you for annoying me on a wet Sunday morning.

    • If could of avoided some (not all) of the MAGA hat controversy if he also had his Hillary Clinton pins front and centre, perhaps literally pinned onto the hat.

      Doubling down on the hat though, I seriously think would only please the firm right wing; National *needs* centrist liberals, and they hate Trump to a passion that it (as a pseudo issue) wouldn’t go away.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  31st May 2020

        Nobody needs “centrist liberals”. They have to be told what to think and then forget immediately. They are clutter on the battlefields of life.

  4. Duker

     /  31st May 2020

    “And Damien Grant, barely a middling journalist promoted several rungs above his level of competence ”
    Not a journalist , a ‘libertarian business owner” who does insolvency,( Waterstone Recovery) but did 30 months time for fraud and a selfdescribed incel–damien-grant–

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  31st May 2020

      Strewth. Duker doing an ad hom. Who would have thought?


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