Bill English remains as National leader

The National Party caucus today chose the status quo over leadership, with Bill English confirmed to remain as leader unopposed, and also Paula remains as deputy.

This is sensible at this stage. They may revisit this in a year or so, with the party and English deciding whether to continue as they are through to the next election or not.

It could depend on how settled or anxious the National MPs become as the term progresses.

English and others should be keeping in mind the disaster for National in the last term they lost power, in 1999-2002, when after English rolled Jenny Shipley their support plummeted.

A difficult day for Labour

It will be a difficult day for Labour today with rumours of an imminent  leadership change all over the place.

On Sunday a very grim looking Andrew Little responding to a grim Colmar Brunton poll result that had Labour on a this century low (for CB) of 24%, saying he had offered to stand down, precipitated a flurry of speculation and anguish.

The hopes of those who tried to play it down with ‘just one poll’ were dashed when it emerged that prior to the CB result Labour had received an internal poll result of 23% from UMR.

So that was a double poll whammy tripled by Little’s response. On RNZ yesterday morning he said he was remaining as leader seemingly because no one else was willing to take over, and this set off a storm through Monday.

And this was topped off by a Newshub/Reid Research poll that had Labour on 24.1%.

This morning Little’s office has advised media he won’t be fronting up for any interviews, with a Labour caucus meeting scheduled.

Whatever happens, whether Little stays or goes, this is a monumental mess for Labour.

It will take several weeks for polls to show us what effect this will have all had on support for Labour but the outlook has to be grim.

We may find out what flavour of grim today.

UPDATE: Little has stepped down.

Already the same old from Little

I’m listening to Andrew Little now on RNZ, and all I am hearing is the same old campaign sloganeering.

Of course he has been asked about him admitting he considered quitting. Little repeatedly tries to divert from this. But he can’t undo what he has said and what he offered to do.

He can’t undo the fact that no one else in Labour wants to captain a sinking ship.

He is back to trying to speak just like he was speaking last week, as if nothing has changed.

If he doesn’t change drastically and quickly then the only thing likely to change is support for Labour, in a negative way.

Repeating the same mistakes won’t turn things around.


Little just said ‘at 24% you don’t get to form a government”.

And on The Standard Espiner is being blasted for an unfair interview, in the comments thread here:

‘This country needs new leadership and a vision’

Winston Peters, Shane Jones or Ron Mark?

It was Winston Peters that said it…

This country needs new leadership and a vision. New Zealand First has it. Working together we can make New Zealand the country it could be – the country it should be.

… but who is new leadership and what vision apart from rear vision looking into the past.

Actually 33 years. Peters was first ‘elected’ in 1978 – he actually went to court to get a legal win in Hunua. He lost in 1981 and won again in 1984 in Tauranga. He lost Tauranga in 2005 but got in on the list. He had another 3 years out of Parliament when NZ First failed in 2008, but has been back since 2011.

He has been NZ First leader since he formed the party in 1993, so he has been at the helm for 24 years unchallenged.

He was deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer from 1996-1999.

Shane Jones has been an MP for 9 years from 2005-2014, and was a Minister in Helen Clark’s last term.

Ron Mark was a NZ First MP for 15 years, from 1996 to 2008, and back in in 2014.

What is their vision?

Green leadership: Arthur Shaw or Martha Turei

When it comes to Green Party leadership voters don’t know whether they are Arthur or Martha.

The Greens seem to have faded lately. It’s not for lack of trying, their campaigning continues unabated, but the media has been giving most attention in politics to the Barclay, and to Winston Peters and Shane Jones. And to a lesser extent Labour’s intern issue.

The Greens are good at churning out their message but that doesn’t often attract headlines. This may be one reason why they typically get less votes than they poll – at the business end of a campaign they are not controversial enough or headline grabbing enough to interest the media, so they slip in visibility.

James Shaw did get a mention yesterday after a speech on immigration – see James Shaw: “Migrants are not to blame…”

But this has got nothing like the attention Peters gets on immigration, or Labour gets on immigration. Shaw talked against populist rhetoric:

The Greens were deeply concerned that populist politicians were preaching a xenophobic message and his comments were an attempt at a more evidence-based approach.

Research commissioned by the Greens had indicated that immigration settings would be best if tied to population growth.

“Because the background terms of the debate are now so dominated by anti-immigrant rhetoric, when I dived into numbers and data, a lot of people interpreted that as pandering to the rhetoric.”

The Greens were “mortified” because their ambition was to be the most migrant-friendly party in parliament, he said.

“I am sorry for any effect it may have had on your communities.”

However apologising, and sounding thoughtful and caring, is not a headline grabber or a vote grabber.

It is noteable that Shaw has tried to differentiate from NZ First and Labour on immigration -an interesting tussle for the best of the test party is developing between these three, as Greens and NZ First try to claw into Labour’s territory.

But this is unlikely to be noticed by most voters.

Greens have a campaign dilemma, again – how to be heard amongst the noise. Being nice and sensible tends to not be very popular.

One fundamental problem they have is their shared leadership. Voters tend to base their decisions on style of leadership and perceptions of strength of leadership, and by deliberate design the Greens have neutered themselves.

Another problem they have is their decision by membership when it comes to coalition options. It sounds like a jolly good way to do inclusive democracy, and has helped the greens grown into a 10% party, but it weakens to perception of leadership.

If you want to be seen as a leading party I think you leadership has to be seen as leading, not deciding by committee.

It will be difficult for the Greens to change this, so they may have to get used to being a support party rather than a potential opposition leader or coalition leader.

When it comes to crunch time in the campaign many voters aren’t sure whether the Greens are Arthur Shaw or Martha Turei.

Contrasting views on Ardern

With Jacinda Ardern now elevated into the political limelight many contrasting opinions have been expressed on her strengths and weaknesses.

Rachel Smalley: Ardern’s test starts now

What I do think Ardern has that is rare in politics, is authenticity. What you see is what you get.

What I usually see is the pitter patter of political palaver.

David Shearer had it too when he came to the leadership, but he had some poor advice. He was told to roll out the party line at every media opportunity, and he lost his way. It wasn’t him. He lost his realness, if you like. And, well, the rest is history.

I had hopes that Shearer would rise to the position but he stumbled and fell when his minders tried to mould him into something he wasn’t.

Ardern, though, has it in spades. She just needs to hang on to it.

The difference for Ardern is she has already been moulded. Is that all we will get, or can she break the mould and make an impression?

And while I think she already has political credibility, she does need to develop that further. She comes across well in the media as a spokesperson for justice, and a spokesperson for children.

Really? When did Ardern make an impression on Justice or on Children?

Remember, for example, when she appeared on the cover of next magazine? She was described as the country’s prime minister in waiting. And in a tv panel, former rugby league coach Graham Lowe agreed saying she was – quote – “A pretty little thing”.

And columnists went on to analyse her. She was labelled ‘vapid’ by one. ‘Pretty vacant’ by another.

I think that Ardern is yet to prove there is substance behind her carefully crafted image.

Never mind the politics. Lets focus on the aesthetics.

Ardern can’t fight that. She can’t change old minds and an old way of thinking. She’s been in politics for some time now, and has worked as a senior policy adviser in London. She’s got the goods. She’s got the intelligence and the leadership potential. All she can do now is prove herself in the role. Prove to the country that she is a leader.

It’s true. She is untested. But that test starts now.

I don’t think it’s possible to say whether Ardern has “got the goods” or leadership potential, something that has been talked up with little to substantiate it.

Smalley is correct saying that Ardern is untested as a leader and as a party promotional figurehead.

That test starts now, and it won’t be easy for Ardern, especially if she doesn’t measure up to media expectations.

Ardern needs to shed her moulders and minders and sell herself, not her pitter patter package. That will be a major test of her abilities.

Little on leadership and English

This is the ‘latest’ on the Labour Party website (they post more often on Facebook), a critique of Bill English’s state of the nation speech by Andrew Little:

My thoughts on Bill English’s State of the Nation speech

This afternoon, Bill English delivered what was supposed to be his first major speech as Prime Minister. But instead we got a skinny version of a Labour policy, and no new ideas for the biggest challenges facing New Zealand.

That’s rather ironic given that Little announced no new Labour policy in his state of the nation speech.

And it reaffirmed to me that he is no leader.

A real leader wouldn’t ignore the housing crisis, the single biggest issue facing thousands of Kiwis struggling to buy their first home. There wasn’t one mention of it in his entire speech.

Leadership is about looking out for the future and braving the big decisions – not ignoring problems because they’re hard. I know there’s a housing crisis, and Labour has a comprehensive plan to fix it.

And a real leader would’ve announced the funding of extra police officers last year, like I did. Instead, Bill English signed off on a four year freeze on police numbers – and less than a year later, he’s backtracked. He’s a follower, not a leader.

One can easily see this as cynical timing in an election year, but calling it a backtrack by a follower sounds quite odd.

Labour has known there’s a crime problem for a long time and we’ve come up with a solution. Making the right decisions at the right time, not months afterwards – that’s what real leadership is about.

It’s time for a Government with vision, energy and a real plan to make New Zealand a better place.

Let’s change the Government. You can read my State of the Nation speech with our vision of New Zealand here.

That’s the speech without any new policy.

Real leadership would show more vision than a fairly lame attack on the current leader. Rather than putting so much emphasis on trying to belittle his opponent Little should, well, act like he can be a leader.

PM changes “do not bode well”

Today’s Herald editorial says that history shows that leadership changes while in Government do not bode well for Bill English and National – but the current situation is quite different to past failures.

Leadership changes do not bode well

The National Government today takes the greatest risk of its tenure – a leadership change. This has happened many times in our political history and not with happy results.

They list:

  • Holyoake lost an election after taking over from an ailing Sydney Holland in mid-term.
  • National was defeated after Sir Keith Holyoake finally handed over to Sir John Marshall (Holyoake was effectively forced out).
  • The Kirk-Rowling Government did not survive the change forced upon it by Norman Kirk’s death.
  • David Lange stood down for Sir Geoffrey Palmer in 1989 and he gave way to Mike Moore the following year (Palmer was rolled), six weeks before the election which it lost.
  • The National Government replaced Prime Minister Jim Bolger with Dame Jenny Shipley (Bolger was rolled by Shipley) and was defeated at the next election.

If Bill English is contemplating this history as he prepares to be sworn-in this afternoon, he may take some comfort from the fact that none of New Zealand’s previous Prime Ministers left office in the same circumstances as John Key.

All quite different circumstances.

The Key Government was most certainly not heading for defeat when its Prime Minister announced his retirement a week ago.

That’s very debatable. It looked unlikely that National would get in again without at least getting NZ First support and that’s far from a given. And polls have at times had Labour+Greens competitive with National.

Key is handing his successor a party still polling high in a third term of office, a growing economy with low unemployment and rising budget surpluses that offer possibilities for additional investment in productivity and infrastructure at the same time as more rapid debt reduction and income tax cuts for the lower paid.

English has been well set up to win the election due later next year, which gives him plenty of time to establish his leadership too.

Not really. English has been given a fairly good opportunity, but a lot depends on how he manages the transition to leader, how the voting public views him in charge and the changes he makes to Cabinet, and many possible outside influences.

There is no direct comparison in history of a handover of leadership that we are just seeing – nor of how weak Labour currently is, requiring at least the Greens or NZ First to get back into power with  a reduced proportion of the majority.

A lot can happen between now and whenever we have the next election (anywhere between March and November next year).


3 days versus 93

In the first leadership change in ten years, since John Key took over from Don Brash on 27 November 2006, the National Party took 3 days to choose their new leader, Bill English.

On Twitter Peter Dunne as described it “as quick and slick a contest as I can recall”.

In contrast Labour have had four leadership contests that have taken a total of

Helen Clark stood down on 8 November 2008, immediately after losing the general election. Phil Goff took over unchallenged 3 days later, on 11 November.

Goff announced he would stand down as Labour leader on 29 November 2011, 3 days after losing the general election. David Shearer won leadership contest against David Cunliffe and took over on 13 December, 14 days later.

During Shearer’s time as leader the Labour party changed their rules on leadership contests, stipulating a voting arrangement involving a mix of caucus (40%), party members (40%) and unions (20%). This has extended the time taken to choose leaders.

Shearer resigned as leader on 22 August 2013. After  contesting the leadership against Grant Robertson and Shane Jones, Cunliffe became leader on 15 September, 24 days later.

After Labour lost the next election Cunliffe resigned as leader on 27 September 2014.  After a contest against Grant Robertson, David Parker and Nanaia Mahuta, Andrew Little took over on 18 November, 52 days later.

That’s a total of 93 days of leadership contesting in a decade, but the time taken has become increasingly long

Going effectively leaderless for a month or two stalls progress while in opposition but they can get away with it. If Labour get back into Government and have a contested leadership under their current rules the time taken to change Prime Ministers could be more of a problem.

Greens also have a membership vote in their leadership contests but they have co-leaders so don’t go rudderless, and they are not likely to have a Prime Minister.

Which may be just as well – Russel Norman announced he would stand down as co-leader on January 2015, and James Shaw eventually won against Kevin Hague on 30 May, over 4 months later.

NZ First and United Future have never had their leaderships contested.

Rodney Hide resigned as leader of the ACT Party on 28 April 2011, and Don Brash was appointed leader by the party board 2 days later.

When ACT did poorly in the 26 November 2011 election Brash resigned on election night.  As their only MP John Banks was de facto leader until being appointed officially by the board on 16 February 2012.

English favourite but not confirmed

Last night Patrick Gower called English as the next Prime Minister, citing a ‘senior MP’ claiming 45 MPs backed English.

I’m very sceptical about this – anonymous sources with vested interests in leadership contests, trying to push a majority five days before the caucus vote takes place, shoukld be viewed with extreme caution.

Yesterday afternoon:

Ok, no mucking around, Paddy Gower will name the new Prime Minister tonight on live at 6.

And Gower went full bore on his big scoop of 45 for English. Matthew Hooton has just called this ‘a big lie’.

RNZ is more factual and feet on the ground in Bill English appears front-runner in National leadership contest:

So far 14 MPs, including Mr Key, have publicly declared they are putting their weight behind the finance minister for the top job.

That’s about half what English needs – but there is no guarantee they will all stick with that public position.

National Party MPs will meet at Parliament on Monday to vote for a new leader and deputy.

It’s a secret vote.

Barry Soper remembers some history involving English in Support for English could easily become daggers of defeat:

Ironically it came when they were doing the numbers after his disastrous election defeat of 2002 when the dapper doctor Don Brash was sharpening his knife the following year.

Holmesy asked me if English was a dead man walking and I said no, more like a twitching corpse. Within minutes the phone was ringing and the invective flowed. When the torrent eased, he was told the numbers for him holding on to the leadership were stacked against him, but for a man who is obviously good with numbers, he insisted they weren’t telling him the same thing.

Later that day Don Brash was installed as leader and Bill English rightly felt cheated, he’d been lied to by some of his colleagues, and gave serious thought to calling it a day and going back to the farm.

The point is, those running for a political job determined by their colleagues can never know for sure of the support they’ve got until the scrutineers do the count, and even more so if the winner’s in the position to determine their future, like a Prime Minister contemplating his Cabinet.

More than half of National’s caucus are looking for favours, they haven’t had the call up for Cabinet and they’ll be sounding out the candidate who can offer them the most.

So it’s not a done deal until the votes are counted next Monday.

English is the front runner for sure, but there’s time for back bench discontent to grow, especially away from Parliament over the weekend.

There could be a backlash over what looks like a jack up – English as Prime Minister, Paula Bennett as deputy and Steven Joyce as Finance Minister looks like a small cabal at the top of National manipulating the leadership.

While they would probably be a competent rearrangement of the same old minus Key it is hardly a fresh new look.

And Brexit/.Trump – there is growing discontent with the political establishment in other parts of the world. Is there any chance of rebellion in the National caucus?