Judith Collins launches herself as leader

National ended up settling their leadership very quickly, announcing that Judith Collins will take over from Todd Muller after Muller stepped down yesterday morning. Gerry Brownlee takes over from Nkiki Kay as deputy.

“I can’t wait to take the fight to the government. Our goal is to put in place a far better government focused on the people of this country and what they are going to need, particularly from an economic point of view.”

“Experience, toughness, the ability to make decisions. Jacinda Ardern is not someone we should ever underestimate. She is an adversary that I would absolutely respect, but I tell you what, our team is better than their team and we are going to take it back.”

According to Richard Harman – Why National finally called on Collins – Mark Mitchell also stood for the leadership, and Paul Goldsmith also stood for the deputy position.

This morning Collins is doing the media rounds, and she has started that showing her experience.

After her media interviews she will work out her shadow cabinet – she says she will only make a few changes, she said it is too close to the election to make major changes. Mostly the changes are those required by the change in responsibilities for her and Brownlee. Kaye will keep a significant role, and Muller is also likely to be included.

Then they will review their policies and no doubt review their approach to the election campaign, but as Brownlee was managing their campaign that shouldn’t be difficult.

Collins has also said she will retain most of the Muller appointed staff in the leader’s office. At this stage before the election that’s another sensible decision.

“I respect the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and I believe she is a very good communicator. She has communicated very well during the Covid crisis.”

There’s a stream of opponents busy on social media dredging up whatever they can find about Collins’ past – her connection to Dirty Politics and to Cameron Slater is a common thread with even Nicky Hager having a go (Press advisory on Judith Collins and the book Dirty Politics), despite that coming to a head six years ago. There is no sign other than Collins keeping a big political distance from Slater since then.

Running dirty attacks in social media is how politics works (unfortunately), but it will be far more critical how Collins handles the media and political journalists, and she is generally very adept at this.

Time will tell how Collins and National do from here. They have a big challenge repair substantial damage so it won’t be easy, but for the good of a health democracy I hope they at least survive in a reasonable state. Their chances of succeeding this election are slim, but they need to become a sensible, strong opposition at least until the election and probably after it as well.

Collins should manage the initial media onslaught ok.

The first big test will be her ranking of her front bench and spokesperson roles. Collins has indicated that Paul Goldsmith will retain the Finance role. She is not committing on Michael Woodhouse until she ‘gets the facts’ today.

Some will demand ‘balance’, especially gender and ethnic. The latter could be tricky but she could promote Simon Bridges and in particular Shane Reti.

However every party doesn’t have to represent everyone, that’s a nonsense that keeps getting promoted. ACT doesn’t represent everyone, Greens don’t represent everyone, neither NZ First or the Maori Party or Labour.

Parties should represent their own constituencies and their own target demographics. But it’s far more important that they represent some semblance of competence and integrity than ticking every box insisted on by others.

Collins: “I’m the right person at this time for the caucus”.

She is going to target economic issues and is still trying to promote the ‘strong team’ theme.

“I know that this is a tough job but we can get it done”.

Promising speech from National leader Muller

National leader Todd Muller has made a number of promises in a speech today. As we know, ‘promises’ made during an election campaign are:

  • Subject to getting into power
  • Subject to support parties allowing them to happen
  • Subject to major things happening like pandemics or financial crises or earthquakes
  • Subject to politicians not changing their minds or priorities once elected.

Muller made the commitments in a wide-ranging speech in his home town of Te Puna this afternoon.

The National leader touched on many topics, including his family, his early life and his private-sector experience.

But a major element of his speech was setting out the priorities of a National-led Government.

Chief among those was “the welfare of every New Zealander” and rebuilding the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 recession.

“National will not increase the taxes New Zealanders pay. Nor will we ever cut benefits, and we will continue to increase New Zealand’s investment in hospitals, schools and the welfare safety net,” he said.

He said successive governments should have acted “faster and more boldly” on issues such as water management and climate change.

On the latter, Muller said he was proud of the work he had done on getting National to support the first reading of the Zero Carbon bill.

Muller also said the previous government had not moved fast enough, or boldly enough, to address New Zealand’s social deficit, help the underclass, or “however you describe the deep-seated social problems we continue to see all around us”.

A clear push to the centre, where they reckon that in the main elections are won and lost,.

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says ""Someone else once said 'Let's do this' say, sure. But you need need a National Government to get it done. Todd Muller National Party Leader National"

I think that sounds quite lame and just a repackaged variations on past claims from National.

 

 

Todd Muller – new National leader

Todd Muller successfully challenged Simon Bridges for the leadership of National yesterday. In the end it looked like a well planned and well executed change.

In his first media conference as leader Muller actually looked well prepared and presented himself very well. He said a number of smart things in his prepared speech, and looked very capable handling questions from journalists.

His choice of Nikki Kaye as deputy provides a good balance (urban liberal beside his conservative rural), and she has been an able and successful MP (she twice defeated Ardern on the Auckland Central electorate).

I think this change had to happen, and with Muller’s focus on rebuilding communities after the impact of Covid-19, and also his business experience promoted in pushing for an economic recovery, this will enhance our political landscape.

His speech began:

The past few months, our country has made many sacrifices.

You have made many sacrifices. You have put a lot on the line to get us through this crisis.

Now, we must begin taking another step forward together, with confidence.

The confidence to rebuild our country, rebuild our economy and to restore the livelihoods of New Zealanders.

Only a National government can provide the leadership to do that.

That is why we must win the next election.

While well behind in the polls right now Muller has to at least be seen to be aiming for a win in the election.

My absolute focus as National Party Leader will be New Zealand’s economic recovery.

We will save jobs, get the economy growing again and we will do so by leveraging our country’s great strengths: our people, our communities, our great natural resources, our values of hard work, tenacity, innovation and aspiration.

This is an obvious focus for a National leader, and it is seen as a key in the upcoming election (in September). The Government has handled the health side of the pandemic very well (mostly) but the crunch will be repairing the economic effects.

Yes, I’ve run businesses. I can read a balance sheet and a profit and loss account.  I can tell a good one from a bad one.  And yes, I’ll bring those skills to the Prime Ministership.

But that’s not what drives me.

What drives me is community – the people who help their elderly neighbours with the lawns on the weekend; The Dad who does the food stall at the annual school fair; The Mum who coaches a touch rugby team;

This election will be about the economy, but not the economy the bureaucracy talks about. It’ll be about the economy that you live in – the economy in your community – your job, your main street, your marae, your tourism business, your local rugby league club, your local butcher, your kura, your netball courts, your farms, your shops and your families.

This is the economy National MPs are grounded in, and the one that matters most to New Zealand.

For too long this economy, your economy – and your life – has been invisible to decision makers in Wellington.

This addresses a lot of grizzles one hears about bureaucrats dominating, out of touch with ordinary people.

Muller addressed things that had been an image problem for Bridges.

This is what you can expect from my leadership: First and foremost – I’m about what’s best for you and your family – not what’s wrong with the Government.

And I’m not interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. We’re all tired of that kind of politics.

However he also took some gentle sounding but fairly scathing swipes

Will I criticise the government?  Yes.

Labour has failed against every measure it has set for itself in Government- KiwiBuild, Light Rail, child poverty, prison numbers.

If we continue on this track of talking a big game but failing to deliver, we simply won’t recognise the New Zealand we are part of in a few years’ time.

…but ultimately, values and ideas are what ground me.

Like the idea that you can shape your own future and are free to do so.

I believe in enterprise, reward for hard work, personal responsibility, and in the power of strong families and communities.

Very National Party.

Fundamentally, I don’t believe that for each and everyone of us to do better, someone else has to be worse off.

Sounds fine, but very difficult thing to avoid in practice.

In response to questions he praised Jacinda Ardern and her Government’s efforts dealing with Covid, but highlighted perceived weaknesses.

He said that while Ardern and her top three or so ministers were doing well but said the quality or ability dropped off very quickly after that. The lack of depth in the current Cabinet has often been claimed. At one stage he refereed to ‘seventeen empty seats”.

Muller is a good speaker, he had a well written, carefully worded and targeted speech, and he made a very good first impression. Unlike Bridges he got the balance about right between promoting his and his party’s own credentials, acknowledging achievements of the current Government, but also making strong criticisms where there are weaknesses without sounding too negative.

It will be a huge task to get National back up and competitive with Labour, and even then National has a lack of potential coalition partners (but he didn’t rule out reconsidering the caucus decision not to deal with NZ First).

But if Muller continues the way he started he should do a better job at holding the Government to account and promoting a viable alternative.

He said that being open and authentic was important – hopefully he won’t be taken over by remodelling media minders.

He has already shown that he is ambitious and determined – and must have set up a good team of helpers.

He has already succeeded in a number of things:

  • A successful career in the kiwifruit industry and with Fonterra
  • Being nominated for and winning a safe-ish electorate
  • Quietly but successfully becoming established as a back bench MP
  • Doing a lot of work in his role as spokesperson on agriculture and horticulture(that’s going to be important on the recovery)
  • His work with James Shaw on a Carbon Zero Bill that had cross party support
  • Picking the right time to successfully roll Bridges
  • Kicking off his leadership with a very good speech and session with journalists.
  • His choice of Nikki Kaye as deputy provides a good balance, and she has been a good and successful MP (she twice defeated Ardern on the Auckland Central electorate).

It’s very early days, but Muller should at least be able to stem the rapuid slide of National, should be able to recover some ground and may be able to get back to at least some semblance of competitiveness this election.

He may not become Prime Minister later this year, but if he does well but doesn’t make it he should be able to keep his job to continue the rebuilding of National next term.

Full speech: Todd Muller new National Leader

Muller indicated that Paul Goldsmith will remain as National’s spokesperson on Finance but said it would take a few days to work out the new lineup and roles, which is obvious.He had a few senior MPs lined up beside him as he gave his speech.

A bit will depend on what Bridges and his also deposed deputy Paula Bennett decide to do about their futures in politics.

Last legs of leadership for Bridges

Talk of changing the Leader of the Opposition is not uncommon, especially by political opponents trying to stir, but after another very poor poll result for himself and for National it looks like the last legs of leadership for Simon Bridges.

In fact bridges says he knows of two challengers and the National leadership will be put to the test by next Tuesday at the latest (when the next caucus meeting is scheduled).

I don’t think National can afford to let it drag out that long.

Poll support has been turned badly against National, They started the year with two good results (RR 43.3% and CB 46%) but a leaked UMR polls this year have gone 38%, 35% to 29% last month (with Labour up to 55%).

And polling last week by Newshub/Reid Research matched this with National on 30.6% (Labour 56.5).

And while in ‘Preferred Prime Minister’ Bridges had been creeping up to 11% in February, UMR had him down to 7% lst month and RR has him on 4.5%.

The performance of bridges through the Covid crisis has been sometimes ok-ish but was often criticised for being out of touch. He also has a problem with his presentation. He often appears to be negative and whiny, and there is no easy fix to that.

there is now open support of an alternative leader from ex-Prime Minister and National leader Jim Bolger: Former PM Jim Bolger backs Todd Muller for next National leader

Bolger told RNZ’s Checkpoint that MP Todd Muller had the attributes to be National’s next leader.

Muller, who worked in Bolger’s office when he was Prime Minister, is understood to have the numbers to roll Simon Bridges, should its caucus make that decision when it meets next Tuesday.

Bolger said he was sure the National caucus was doing a lot of “soul-searching” as it tried to determine the way ahead.

I’m sure some of the National caucus will have informed Bolger of that. Him going public is an ominous sign for Bridges.

And after being defiant following Monday’s poll Bridges now concedes he has challengers. Newshub: MPs will challenge for National Party leadership, Simon Bridges confirms

“There is a focus on the leadership of the National Party. I understand that two of my colleagues will challenge, want to and seek to challenge, Paula Bennett and I for the leadership and the deputy leadership of the National Party,” he told The AM Show.

He refused to name the two colleagues, how he came to know of the challenge, if he had spoken to the MPs, or when they will announce their run for the top jobs.

“I think it is for them to state their leadership intentions. I want to give them the dignity of being able to make their statements,” Bridges said.

Bridges called for the issue to be resolved quickly so the focus can get back on Kiwis. He said he will put his leadership to the test by Tuesday at the latest.

“I am very confident that I will win, but I do want to put it to the test as I say, so we can quickly resolve this and get back to the things that matters for New Zealanders.

When a leader in a weak and weakening position concedes he has challengers it looks like he is toast.

National’s pollster David Farrar as good as confirms the leadership challenge at Kiwiblog: National’s leadership

As with any major political event I will cover it on Kiwiblog, but as has been my long standing practice I won’t share my opinions on what I think Caucus should do… (because he works for the party and because he knowns many MPs very well).

My only advice to National is to not let things fester.


Todd Muller looks the most likely replacement. He has been MP for Bay of Plenty since 2014, and while not well known has done a lot of work on National’s climate change policy, which largely supports what the Government is doing.

He has a healthy majority, getting more than double the votes of his Labour challenger last election.

Judith Collins is another likely challenger, but the ongoing word is she doesn’t have a lot of support among National MPs. Cameron Slater has stopped openly promoting her. All National MPs seem to have distanced themselves from Slater (he switched to promoting Winston Peters three years ago and that appears to be his current agenda) but the taint remains for Collins. Salter keeps dumping on just about everyone else in National.


I was going to post about Stuff giving Bridges some free self promotion – Simon Bridges: Five things we need to do to get New Zealand working after Covid-19 – but that seems to be a last gasp now.


Bridges is being interviewed on NZ now. He starts by diverting to ‘focussing on the issues of the day’.

But he is refocussed quickly and he concedes what has been reported already without naming the challengers.

He switches to electioneering again but is refocussed again. He says he is very confident he and Paula Bennett have the numbers, but they all say that.

He claims he has an ‘overwhelming majority’ support.

He says he isn’t surprised by the polls when asked about Colmar Brunton who is polling right now (to be published tomorrow apparently) and in the current circumstances that is unlikely to help Bridges.


Judith Collins has ruled out challenging.

All the word is that Todd Muller is challenging with Nikki Kaye deputy (the two people are a single ticket).

 

Poll – replacement NZ First leader (plus more donations drip feeding)

At this stage there is no indication that Winston Peters will step down as Deputy Prime Minister pending the SFO investigation into how the NZ First Foundation has been dealing with donations. Peters has both distanced himself saying he has nothing to do with the foundation, but has also said he knows the foundation has bone nothing wrong and has been doing all the media releases and interviews in relation to the issue.

And there is no indication that Winston Peters is ready to step down as leader of NZ First or to retire from politics. He doesn’t exactly look like an energizer bunny but politically he just keeps on going (with the occasional top up of voter energy after things have gone flat).

But regardless, Newshub decided to do some polling on a replacement NZ First leader – Who Kiwis think should be NZ First leader if Winston Peters stands down

In the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, voters were asked for their thoughts on who should take over if Peters ever stands down as New Zealand First leader.

Thee results are quite mixed.

  • Ron Mark: 17.9%
  • Shane Jones: 14.5%
  • Tracey Martin: 13.8%
  • Fletcher Tabuteau: 3.6%

The three most popular are the three most prominent NZ First MPs. All are ministers. Jones is by far the most visible (he does a lot of attention seeking), but interesting to see Mark top the poll, as he has been a much more quiet worker.

Results from NZ First voters must be suspect as the sample must be quit small, with only 3.6% preferring the party in the poll.

  • Ron Mark: 34.4%
  • Shane Jones: 18.5%
  • Fletcher Tabuteau: 13.6%
  • Tracey Martin: 2.9%

So Jones doesn’t seem very popular even amongst the few NZ First voters polled. This doesn’t mean much, but it’s a bit interesting.

Peters has always been leader of NZ First, the Peters is sometimes referred to as Winston First.

Tracey Martin was chosen as deputy leader of NZ First on 14 February 2013.

Ron Mark challenged her and was selected to replace her on 3 July 2015.

Fletcher Tabuteau replaced Mark as leader on 27 February 2018.

Meanwhile Simon Bridges hasn’t ruled out working with Winston Peters forever:

It would be ridiculous making a commitment on this for future elections, so this means less than the replacement leader polling.


Meanwhile the donations story continues to drip feed, despite Peters saying he was slaying a complaint with the police over the ‘theft’ of information from the Foundation  he has nothing to do with.

RNZ: NZ First Foundation received tens of thousands of dollars from donors in horse racing industry

The New Zealand First Foundation has been receiving tens of thousands of dollars from donors in the horse racing industry in payments which fall just below the $15,000.01 at which party donations are usually made public.

As racing minister, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has delivered significant benefits to the industry, including millions of dollars of government money spent on tax breaks and scrapping betting levies.

Records viewed by RNZ show one of the big donors was the Lindsay family. Brendan Lindsay sold the plastic storage container business Sistema for $660 million in late 2016 and a year later bought Sir Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud.

Three lots of $15,000 were deposited into the bank account of the New Zealand First Foundation on 11 October, 2018, according to records viewed by RNZ.

One of the donations was in Brendan Lindsay’s own name and one was in the name of his wife, Jo Lindsay. There was a third deposit made that same day listed as Lindsay Invest Donation.

The year before – in the 2017 election year – Brendan Lindsay also donated $15,000. On the same day there is another deposit for $15,000 listed as Lindsay Trust Donation. Both were banked by the New Zealand First Foundation on 5 May, 2017.

Brendan Lindsay told RNZ, via email, that neither he nor his wife were aware of the Foundation.

Spreading payments between related people and entities all just below the disclosure threshold looks designed to avoid the law. Time will tell whether it is actually illegal or not, but can have an appearance of being deliberately deceitful.


 

How hopeless is National’s current situation?

Now that National seems to have settled in the very low forties in the polls, below Labour and well below Labour+Greens+NZ First, they have a big political hill to climb before next year’s election, especially with the surge in support for Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Even if either or both of Greens and NZ First miss the threshold next year Labour is in a strong position, with a leader who is widely liked versus National with leader Simon Bridges who appears to be widely disliked, or dismissed as not up to the job.

Which means National is in a weak position. This could change, but that would probably need a bad turn for the worse for labour, or for the economy. And it would probably also need National to find a new leader who is respected. Bridges is being written off by National leaning voters as much as anyone.

Matthew Hooton is either being realistic, or is trying to shock National into dumping Bridges: Jacinda Ardern on track for triumph in 2020

Moving towards the election, National will argue that a vote for NZ First is a vote for Ardern, which will be true as far as it goes. But just as truthfully, as more centre voters recognise National’s position as hopeless, Winston Peters or Shane Jones will be able to pitch that a vote for NZ First is a vote to keep the Greens out of Cabinet and major social or economic change off the table.

National now needs to face facts: it and Act are close to 20 points behind the three governing parties.

Bizarrely, some on the centre-right seem to take comfort from the most recent 1 News Colmar Brunton poll — completed before Ardern took the CGT off the table — putting National and Act on 41 per cent. They seem to overlook the fact that this puts them a full 17 points behind Labour, NZ First and the Greens, who were on a combined 58 per cent.

To put this in perspective, gaps of more than 15 points between opposition and governing blocs are exceptionally rare in New Zealand.

Were such a result to occur on election night, it would sit alongside the two worst political debacles in living memory.

By and large, National MPs remain in denial about how hopeless their position is, especially following Ardern’s CGT move.

They misunderstand that, in a country that is generally content, Ardern’s very flakiness on any substantial policy matter is one of the Coalition’s strengths.

That her every utterance is devoid of content and that her Government has no meaningful policy programme is exactly the way the median voter likes it.

Sadly for centre-right voters, it looks as if National will need to repeat its trauma of 2002 and Labour’s of 2014 before it wakes up to the magnitude of the task and difficulty of the decisions required to become a viable alternative government again.

There have been various reports recently about Bridges being poorly supported by National MPs, and numbers being counted.

But do they have the gumption to actually do anything? Or are they going to wait until it gets worse for them before they act?

There are suggestions that prospective alternate leaders see next year’s election as lost anyway so don’t want to try to step up before then. That defeatist approach is bad enough as a strategy – taking over from the captain of a sinking ship isn’t a very smart plan – but it also shows a lack of leadership potential.

Judith Collins is often suggested as waiting in the wings, but it seems that she is not liked by enough MPs to get win their confidence. So who else is there? Ardern wasn’t rated until she got elevated in an emergency situation. There could be someone in the national ranks who could do a good job of stepping up.

The problem with politics is showing good leadership skills – and intent – is frowned upon, especially by current leadership, so it is difficult to judge the abilities of all National MPs.

If the National caucus has any serious contenders hidden in their midst they should be showing leadership and try to take over before things get too bad,

Otherwise they look to be in a hopeless political situation, and just accepting that and struggling on makes them look undeserving of voter support.

Marama Davidson lays into the blame game

The degree to which Marama Davidson takes her arguments here is alarming, especially for a political party leader.

While most of the country is coming together with a common purpose of sympathy and empathy, she seems to be intent on blaming and dividing.

Yesterday from her speech in Ministerial Statements — Mosque Terror Attacks—Christchurch

I know that we must work together, all of us, to become an Aotearoa where everyone is safe to pray, or not—an Aotearoa where people are safe to be who they are.

I also acknowledge the calls from those in Muslim communities to ensure that we tell the truth right from the start. I note the Muslim voices highlighting the truth that New Zealand has a long history of colonial policy, discourse, and violence that sought to harm indigenous peoples. As tangata whenua, I am aware that we need to build connections now more than ever, to heal, and to create loving futures for everyone.

There are some major contradictions in this.

So what do we do now? I am energised by the signs of people now reflecting on their own bias and prejudice and committing to fighting racism with all their might.

We have a big shift ahead of us. We have lessons to learn. We have conversations to have. It’s just that this seems like it was too big a price to pay to get us to this point. In closing, to our Muslim communities, we love you, not just because you are us, but because you are you. Kia ora.

Davidson needs to learn that those of us who have some colonial history in our whanau are also part of ‘us’.

She is correct in saying “we must work together, all of us” – she just needs to learn what that actually means, and she needs to learn that divisive speech is contrary to what she is imploring here.

 

National should be bold with a new leader

The latest poll by Newshub/Reid Research has confirmed that party support has been volatile, with National getting a similar result in the first poll of this year to the first poll of last year, and not far away from a poll in October.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_next_New_Zealand_general_election

National are doing fairly well for a party in opposition after nine years in Government.

But the poll confirmed again that Simon Bridges is not doing well as leader.  Why?

Kate Hawkesby: Exactly what is it about Simon Bridges that voters don’t like?

Another poll, another bad day at the office for Simon Bridges.

So what is it voters don’t like about Simon Bridges? Is it the voice? Is it his perceived weakness? Is it his inability to bat away Jami-Lee Ross?

Is it just bad luck being the guy who had to follow John Key? Is it that people still don’t know him?

Probably all of those things – and more. You can add to that a lurch right on issues like cannabis law reform, euthanasia, abortion, and a conservative Bridges looks out of touch with modern New Zealand.

Or is it just that National’s base likes strong sassy and old-school – in the form of a Judith Collins?

Some like Collins, but I’m far from convinced she is a good choice to take over. While there is some strong support for Collins in National circles, there also seems to be strong opposition. Twice she has put herself forward for the leadership and she hasn’t come close.

I see another problem with switching from Bridges to Collins. They are both from National’s last Government. The country has moved on from that.

After Helen Cl;ark was defeated in 2008 and stepped down Labour went through a few years of giving MPs a go who had been there for yonks waiting for a go (Goff, Cunliffe), and trying newer MPs who didn’t look new (Shearer, Little). They all failed.

National should face the reality that it will be difficult for them to get back into power next year. By 2023 Bridges or Collins will be even more old school and potentially stale and out of touch.

If National really wants to look ahead I think they need to seriously look at choosing a leader for the future, and accept that next years election is likely to be a learning exercise.

I have no idea who would be suitable. I just think it is likely to be someone not on the leadership radar at the moment.

National may simply be too conservative to make a bold move, but they have done it before, backing the inexperienced John Key, and that proved successful.

Choosing a relatively inexperienced MP now who has obvious leadership potential, targeting 2023, seems like a pragmatic approach. And if Labour fail to deliver and crash next year, there is enough experience in national’s ranks to help a new Prime Minister – they should be in a better position to do this than Labour were with Ardern.

We need strong leadership of at least the major parties. Bridges doesn’t cut it.

I would like National to be bold and look to the future, but they don’;t seem to be ready for this yet. They may need another election loss to hammer home the need for real revitalisation and modernisation.

Make or break year for Simon Bridges

It’s difficult taking over leadership of a political party, especially one of the two parties, and especially after previous long term popular leadership.

Labour had a lot of trouble finding a popular leader after Helen Clark left after losing the 2008 election. They went through four struggling leaders before circumstances forced a shock shift to Jacinda Ardern, who benefited from an impressive first impression and a short campaign – and then from the support of Winston Peters.

Bill English was a capable replacement for John Key, but was saddled with the difficulty of holding onto power after three terms in Government, a dearth of parties they could try to form coalitions with, and had to compete with the mass of media coverage that helped the sudden rise of Ardern.

English stepped down and National chose Simon Bridges to lead them and to lead the Opposition, both big challenges.

In his nearly a year as National’s leader Bridges has struggled to impress or appeal. Overall there has been little praise and a lot of criticism, and that that sums up my impression of him. He often doesn’t come across well in media. He has had a bit of barking-at-cars syndrome. And I don’t like some of his policy choices, like on drug law reform, abortion and euthanasia (these should be conscience votes but a leader can influence his party MPs).

The only major plus is that while Bridges has failed to fire in ‘preferred Prime Minister’ polls his party support has mostly held up surprisingly well. This may be despite him rather than due to his leadership.

One of Bridges’ biggest practical problems is it seems that most media have started to write him off, which like it or not can have a significant influence.

He has to start the year (later this month) with, somehow, a new outlook, a new plan, and a better way of delivery his messages. It’s hard for a politician to turn around a negative image, but it can be done, as Helen Clark proved. But that was last century. The media and the social media pundits demand instant success or the knives and pens and keyboards are quickly sharpened.

I’m not ready to write Bridges off yet. He and his advisers must be aware of his problems, and must be trying to work out how to address them and turn things around. So Bridges may take a new approach this year – if he does it will take time to prove whether it might work for him or not.

But if he continues much the same as last year then I think he is not going to cut it, and if he doesn’t step down for the good of the party he may be pushed.

This year is probably make or break for Bridges.

Flag change debate demonstrates partisan support shifts

The flag change debate and referendum became dominated by partisan shifts in support – one of the more significant being Labour’s shift from supporting flag change to opposing it, which appeared to be more an anti-John Key position shift.

Analysis shows that many voters shifted their preference for change based on their party support – the result was swayed by partisanship.

So it is imperative that future referendums, like the upcoming (some time) cannabis referendum, does not become a political shit fight. To avoid it being a partisan pissy contest the party leaders should make it clear it is a conscience type vote.

NZH: Follow the leader: What the flag debate revealed about our personal politics

When it comes to issues as seemingly apolitical as changing the flag, the party leaders we back can still change the way we sway.

That’s according to a study published this month by Kiwi researchers, who used the much-debated flag referendum to investigate how partisanship can shape our own attitudes and preferences.

“Our research shows that the positions taken by political leaders and political parties can have an important impact on peoples’ preferences, even on issues that are supposed to reflect personal preferences,” said study leader Nicole Satherley, of the University of Auckland.

The longitudinal New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) happened to include questions measuring voters’ attitudes about changing the flag in 2013, before the referendum was introduced, and again in 2016, after it had been introduced.

Satherley and colleagues capitalised on these data, examining participants’ support for changing the flag (“yes,” “no,” or “unsure”) and the degree to which participants in the study also supported or opposed the National and Labour parties.

As the researchers hypothesised, the data showed that participants tended to shift their opinions to align with those of their preferred political party.

Overall, 30.5 per cent of National voters and 27.5 per cent of Labour voters moved away from the position they originally reported in 2013 to become closer to, or consistent with, the position endorsed by their party leader.

In other words, the researchers found that support for either National or Labour predicted whether individual voters remained stable in their views or changed over time.

Relative to remaining opposed to changing the existing flag design, strong National supporters were more than three times as likely to shift their opinion in favour of a flag change compared with those who expressed low support for National.

At the same time, staunch Labour supporters who originally backed the change were more likely to shift toward opposing the change, compared with participants who expressed low support for Labour.

And strong party supporters whose opinions were already in line with the party position were less likely to shift their attitudes over time compared with participants who expressed low levels of party support.

Can the party leaders promote a true non-partisan choice-of-the-people referendum on recreational use of cannabis when that eventually happens (it must be before or with the next general election in 2020)?

If we have a referendum on euthanasia can that be non-partisan?

The researchers said the findings raised some important questions for future research, such as what motivated party supporters to switch their votes, and whether they did so to align themselves with their party leaders, or just to combat the opposing party.

These are important tests, because when we get around to deciding things like constitutions and becoming a republic it will be critical that the debates and referendums are no hijacked by political parties for their own benefit.

Much will depend on how the party leaders deal with any referendum.