It looks like Judith Collins and Cameron Slater are making a power play. Or two independent coincidental power plays.
Collins has been quietly trying to rebuild her political career after being demoted as a Minister leading into last year’s election, in no small part due to her friendly relationship with Slater.
In the meantime Slater has been increasingly critical of John Key’s leadership with what has seemed like daily attacks and sometimes multiple attacks a day in post at Whale Oil.
Collins has had a weekly column alongside Phil Goff. Until now she has written about general topics. But yesterday: Judith Collins: Centre voters just the core, the action is on the fringes:
Elections are never won or lost in the centre. Yes, the vast number of voters are in the centre but they won’t bother to change their vote (much less get out to vote) unless they actually have something to vote for. Mobilising the centre to move to the left or to the right, is what wins elections. If you want to stay in power, then the centre is what keeps you there.
Politicians of all stripes need to be fearless, creative, interested, questioning and most of all listening to the electorate. Polling goes to show the centre doesn’t really say much and therein lies the danger of the echo chamber. But the edges of the electorate are always talking.
Winning elections is about engaging people and actually presenting an alternative. Galvanising the centre to be interested enough to vote will not happen simply by prescribing more of the same, albeit with a different coloured tie.
Judith’s column this week is the opening shot in her campaign to succeed John Key as National’s leader.
It’s a not-so-subtle attack on the well-known fact that John Key is not driven by strong values but rather the results of weekly polling and focus groups.
Judith is inviting you to contrast Key’s soft positions with her post-demotion outspokenness on issues.
You can’t blame her for that or for her antagonism towards Key. After all, he sacked her and is refusing to put her back into Cabinet.
Goff could be perceptive. Or he could be mischievous. Or both.
Matthew Hooton responded to a comment on this at The Standard:
“when it came to Phil Goff’s reply, Collins probably got a lot more than she expected”
I reckon she got exactly what she expected (and hoped for) from Goff.
Today at Politik it looks like Collins is busy getting her message out there in JUDITH COLLINS SAYS IT’S TIME FOR POLITICIANS TO STAND FOR SOMETHING.
She set out a summary of her views in the Sunday Star Times and one Labour politician did have something to say.
Phil Goff said the column sounded like the start of her campaign to become National leader.
But in a lengthy interview with POLITIK she chose her words carefully and avoided any head on challenge to the National Party leadership who have shunned her since she resigned from Cabinet over her connections with Whaleoil.
Nevertheless her message is clear.
“It’s better to make a difference than to sit in Parliament and occupy a seat,” she said.
“You are actually elected to do something.
“If you don’t do something then get out of the way and let someone else do it.”
She worries that the general public all round the world is sick and tired of politicians who say just what they think the electorate wants them to say.
“Actually ultimately you are never going to get anything done unless you change the status quo and you can’t do that from a position of fear or a position of let’s not rock the boat.”
She is suspicious of focus groups.
“The problem with focus groups is that you are asking them a question; you are defining what they can talk about and what they are interested in and sometimes I think you have just got to stand for something.”
She says she doesn’t use focus groups but relies on knocking on doors and what people tell her in her electorate office.
“In my electorate there are probably quite a lot of people who aren’t necessarily National voters but what they like is if you are straight up with them.”
It’s often claimed that John Key is guided by focus groups
Face to face contact is important but it can be self selecting – only people who want to talk will talk – and they can adjust what they say to suit their audience.
There will be many who will scrutinise the comments here and in the Sunday Star Times column for signs of dissidence, for some hint that as Mr Goff claimed, she has begun her campaign for the party leadership.
But what she is saying is more general than that.
It looks more like the beginning of what may be a long debate defining what the post-Key National Party might look like.
Meanwhile, coincidence or not, Slater has been continuing his campaign. Yesterday his anti-Key posts continued: Losing our Religion – A letter from a reader…to John Key
The letter may or may not have been from ‘a reader’, it can be hard to tell on Whale Oil what’s genuine and what’s part of the campaigning and what’s paid for commentary. Slater added his own comments:
I’m not sure he is listening…but his minions are reading. Maybe the message will get through, either that or we will soon see a series of posts on cat fancier, arts, travel and lifestyle blogger, David Farrar’s blog about the stunning achievements of a John Key led government in a bid to counter “negative” posts here.
I am no sycophant and will tell things as I see them or as my readers emails.
Things aren’t right within National, they have allowed a cult of personality to develop and those never end well.
More posts generally criticise National.
He has followed that up today with specific references to the Collins publicity, first on her Stuff column in Judith Collins on Corbyn, and winning the centre.
This is the quiet changing of religion that I speak of…people turning off and not bothering because politics has become shades of brown and as appetising as cardboar
People get tired of the same old view of politicians and eventually they seek a change, any change, so long as it is not who we have now. They certainly don’t subscribe to TINA…that is the false hope of incumbents.
TINA is There is No Alternative, seen as one reason for Key’s sustained popularity, but Slater has been trying to establish a meme that there is an alternative – from within National. I wonder who he thinks that should be. Note that for some time he has strongly criticised Bill English, Steven Joyce and Paula Bennett.
Then later today he posted on the Politik interview with Collins – Collins expands her discussion on the centre. In agreeing with Collins he said:
She’s dead right about that and MMP has created a situation where seat warmers are the politicians of the day. If you have a look at Helen Clark’s legacy it is nothing but banal social policy. John Key’s legacy is shaping up to be not much better, with the prospect of the flag being retained that particular dream is in tatters.
Straight shooters have always done well in New Zealand politics, and it is a shame that John Key has changed from that perception of a straight shooter to a perception that is much less than that.
What is funny though is the left wing getting all excited that Judith Collins will attempt to do what they have failed thus far to achieve…topple John Key. They should be careful what they wish for, because I doubt such an event would go well for them and their union pals.
So it is easy to see this as a two pronged attack on Key by Collins and Slater.
What sort of support would Collins have in the National Caucus? I don’t know.
But one this is for certain – she has a whale sized millstone hanging around her neck.
Eighteen months ago a campaign like this from Slater may have been seen as a serious threat. But his political credibility has plummeted.
I think a Slater orchestrated leadership bid is unlikely to cause anything but trouble for Collins. Sure it may damage National, and Slater has been trying to do that since he fell out of favour. But His alternative is unlikely to be looked on favourably.
Something not covered in Collins’ column yesterday nor in her Politik interview was whether she was being invoiced by Slater for his advice and his Whale Oil campaigning. This could be as more a fundraiser for him than a serious leadership bid.
Anyone as knowledgeable about politics as Slater claims to be (he was praising his predictive abilities last week, see the poor me/clever me post LOSING YOUR RELIGION) would know that Slater+anything is currently seen as toxic.
And the Slater attacks on National don’t even seem overly popular at Whale Oil. From his Saturday diss Hooton: ‘Thanks John, time to move along now’ he explains his TINA theories:
John Key is still popular because people still believe in the false premise of TINA (There Is No Alternative).
Logic suggests that TINA is not valid. If John Key were to be mowed down by a bus driver on Lambton Quay on Monday morning it is certain that there would indeed be a replacement. When he does finally step down or is knifed, or gets voted out there will be an alternative. There is always an alternative…whether or not an alternative is apparent depends entirely on the vision of the person stating TINA.
The belief that TINA is real…suggests these people think John Key is immortal and can reign forever…neither are true…politically or in reality. There is always an alternative.
But if you have a look at the upticks on the comments in LOSING YOUR RELIGION it seems clear his audience isn’t captivated or convinced by Slater’s campaign.
Note: I’ve done a few edits and additions to this in the half hour after posting.