Bennett versus Bridges

Now Bill English has been confirmed as New Zealand’s next Prime Minister – he will be sworn in early next week – attention has turned to the deputy spot, being contested by Paula Bennett.

Bennett has been groomed by National and English in particular for a rise in their ranks, and was briefly acting Prime Minister a couple of months ago when John Key, Bill English and Gerry Brownlee were all overseas.

Bennett would tick Auckland, female and Maori boxes.

She is 47 and has been an MP since 2008, now for new electorate Upper Harbour, and is currently ranked 5th in the National Cabinet. Her responsibilities:

  • Minister of Climate Change Issues
  • Minister of Social Housing
  • Minister of State Services
  • Associate Minister of Finance
  • Associate Minister of Tourism

It’s notable that she has been working under English in Finance and under Key in Tourism.

Bridges has been talked about as a leader of the future for quite a while and some have said he has tried to model himself on Key.

He is 40 and has been MP for Tauranga since 2008, and is currently ranked 9th in the Cabinet pecking order. His responsibilities:

  • Deputy Leader of the House (under Brownlee)
  • Minister of Transport
  • Minister of Energy and Resources
  • Associate Minister of Climate Change Issues
  • Associate Minister of Justice

While a deputy needs to be loyal to their Prime Minister both Bridges and Bennett presumably have an eye towards an English retirement which will leave the top job open.

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.

Who’s out and who’s up?

We know that John Key is on the way out. So is Hekia Parata. Who else is past their use by date?

Murray McCully, Gerry Brownlee and Nick Smith must be on the outgoing short list too, and some Minister slower down the ranks must be wondering if they have a future.

Who will rise under Bill English’s leadership?

Vernon Small speculates in Snakes and ladders with Bill English: Who climbs the Beehive’s steps and who will take a tumble?

1. Bill English: Prime Minister and likely to take national security and intelligence as Key did.

2. Paula Bennett: Deputy Prime Minister and could be given another big role, like health.

3. Steven Joyce: Already anointed as finance minister.

4. Jonathan Coleman: He has in the past expressed an interest in foreign affairs and would be a good fit if Murray McCully goes.

5. Amy Adams: Justice, State Services. Good well-regarded performer.

6. Simon Bridges: Maybe keep transport and spread his wings in associate finance and pick up the plum economic development role vacated by Joyce.

7. Judith Collins: Police, Corrections. It’s her patch.

8. Chris Finlayson: Too useful as Attorney-General and on treaty issues to be moved.

9. Anne Tolley: Social Welfare and doing a sound job.

10. Nikki Kaye: If her health is on the mend, and Hekia Parata is leaving, why not give her education?

Who else deserves to rise, and who is best to look for another pastime?

The current Cabinet:

  1. John Key
  2. Bill English
  3. Gerry Brownlee
  4. Steven Joyce
  5. Paula Bennett
  6. Jonathan Coleman
  7. Amy Adams
  8. Chris Finlayson
  9. Simon Bridges
  10. Hekia Parata
  11. Anne Tolley
  12. Nick Smith
  13. Murray McCully
  14. Judith Collins
  15. Nathan Guy
  16. Nikki Kaye
  17. Michael Woodhouse
  18. Todd McClay
  19. Sam Lotu-liga
  20. Maggie Barry
  21. Craig Foss
  22. Jo Goodhew
  23. Nicky Wagner
  24. Louise Upston
  25. Paul Goldsmith


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?

English, Coleman and Collins

So Bill English has decided to have a go at being Prime Minister, but he has to be chosen by National’s caucus first. Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins have also put themselves forward,

It is excellent to see a good contest on offer. It would have been a real shame to see English get the job unopposed, but after  a decade of no contest it is not surprising there’s interest from multiple contenders.

There could be more to join  the contest, but Amy Adams and Simon Bridges have ruled themselves out.

The three already in offer a good variety of options, from much the same  minus Key to something quite different, a distinctly new phase in Government and for national.

English is the early favourite with about 8 Cabinet Ministers pledging support but there are 59 National MPs who get to chose their new leader.

Coleman was regarded as an outside chance but it’s now up to him to make a case.

Slater has still been plugging Collins and rubbishing the rest, indicating his personal interests have a higher priority than being an objective political commentator. Whale Oil is a device to push his interests more than a right wing blog.

I don’t care who wins this battle. It’s a fascinating time in politics, and a critical decision required from the National caucus.

Does English want the job?

John Key has made it clear his preference for the next National leader and Prime Minister is Bill English.

But does English want the job? He said he will indicate today whether he wants to go for it.

In the past he has indicated he was not interested in stepping up, but loyal deputies are supposed to say that.

In March Jarrod Gilbert interviewed English – Bill English: ‘I specialise in being boring’ – and wrote:

English has reached his political ceiling. He has no desire to have another shot at the leadership. He is as high up the ladder as he wishes to go. He doesn’t have to make a fuss to make his mark.

Yesterday Gilbert posted:

The transcript from my interview with Bill English not wanting to be leader.


Things have changed substantially now.

English first entered Parliament when he won the Wallace seat in 1990, so he has been an MP for 26 years. Under MMP that electorate expanded into Clutha-Southland.

English took over leadership of National in 2001, and led the party to a record defeat in 2002. A year later he was dumped and Don Brash took over.

Brash lost the 2005 election and a year later resigned. John Key took over with English as his deputy and Finance Minister. They won the 2008 election and since ten have run a (mostly) solid and dependable Government.

In 2014 English gave up his electorate to become a list only MP. Twenty four years of commuting between Southland and Wellington may have been a factor.

This raised speculation the English may be positioning himself to retire – it’s a lot easier to slip out as a list MP rather than precipitating a by-election.

Was this what English wanted to do?

Regardless, Key’s decision will have given English a lot to consider. And reconsider perhaps.

English may hanker for a stint in the top spot to atone for his 2002 embarrassment. He may think that a term or so as leader will help the party transition top a post-key era.

But that is very risky for the party – a new leader in a fourth term will have the odds stacked against them.

But English could also consider his job almost done. He may see that National may benefit more if it switches to fresh new leadership and perhaps even a new Minister of Finance.

A fresh new leadership team may revitalise the Government. They would have a solid base to work from. The Opposition is in poor shape, despite renewed hope from Labour now that Key is going. So a major change now would be a good gamble for National.

We’ll find out later today which way English decides to go. If he wants to take over his chances must be very good, given the advantage and promotion Key has given him.

Helen Clark passed on to Phil Goff a waning party with a leadership vacuum.

Key is leaving National in a much stronger position, a large caucus with no doubt a number of ambitious MPs.

English may fancy his chances, or he may be prepared to play a longer game for the good of his party.

The job is probably his if he wants it, but that may not be in his best interests, nor National’s.

Who next for Prime Minister?

If things go according to John Key’s suggested time frame then the National Party caucus will choose a new Prime Minister within a week. Breathtaking. This is a very tight timeframe for all MPs other than Bill English to consider their near future ambitions and to decice whether they are willing to hand over their time and their privacy to the country.

A UMR poll done from 27 September to 14 Octoberasked about preferences for a Key replacement:

  • Bill English 21%
  • Steven Joyce 16%
  • Paula Bennett 11%
  • Judith Collins 6%

Others mentioned as possibilities are Amy Adams (she seems to have preferred to work hard out of the public eye) and Simon Bridges (too soon for him). Jonathan Coleman has also been mentioned.

Key has  said he will support English if his current deputy decides to put himself in the reckoning. English appears to be the only one who knew about Key’s intentions well ion advance.

One thing is certain – politics and the country will continue on next year without Key as leader, and those who rise to fill gaps will take over the media and Opposition heat.

Labour will be rubbing their hands together, thinking that Key gone straight after their Mt Roskill by-election success will give them a better chance in next year’s election. It will – but how much remains to be seen. Key’s resignation won’t fix Labour’s problems and it’s hard to see them getting a 10-20% boost.

When an English-Little contest was suggested on Twitter journalists lamented the lack of excitement. This is one problem with our media, the Prime Ministers and Parliament are supposed to be running the country with a minimum of fuss, intervention and disruption.

They are not supposed to be click bait entertainers.

Added – poll number cruncher with a leftish viewpoint, Swordfish (from a Standard comment):

Here’s my March 2016 overview of public opinion on a post-Key successor (Polls over the last 5 years)

National didn’t show up in Mt Roskill

John Key may have not meant this literally but perhaps it tells us something about National’s lacklustre efforts in the Mt Roskill by-election.

“No other political party other than Labour showed up. The Greens didn’t show up. New Zealand First didn’t show up and, actually, the voters didn’t show up,” he said.

Mt Roskill by-election victory ‘a pretty small bar for Andrew Little to get over’: John Key

He didn’t name National, and his party stood a candidate, but they seemed to not try and not care.

Key said they did a poll three weeks before the election that showed Labour’s Michael Wood well ahead but National had given up on going for a win long before that. Key says they never considered a National win. That showed.

What is it with National and by-elections? Their Northland candidate selection and campaign was very poor, and they were trounced by Winston Peters.

Do they not care about by-elections? Losing Northland was a major defeat, not just of a safe National seat but it also significantly weakened National’s coalition voting power, as National+Act no longer held a majority.

Winning Mt Roskill would have given National an important extra MP, but they would probably not be wanting to push through controversial National+Act legislation in an election year.

Was handing an easy win to Labour tactical? Andrew Little is saying the Mt Roskill win ‘is proof that Labour can win a general election’, following their local body election successes.

Labour may be trying to spin what they can out of their win, but it sounds like they believe they are now in with a shot in next year’s election, despite trailing National by about 20% in polls (more in some).

The Wood win means that Little is secure as leader until the election. Key and National are probably quite happy about that.

But National may have problems with arrogancy and complacency. Losing by-elections has become a habit.

Next year’s election looks like National’s to lose and Labour on their own are a long way from being competitive, now relying on at least the Greens and also probably hoping NZ First will agree to a triumverate coalition (triumverate  is probably not appropriate given Little’s not very powerful leadership and Greens having co-leaders).

But I don’t think a National loss should be ruled out, especially given their by-election performances.

Steven Joyce engineered cleverness may bite them on the bum – National+NZ First could end up being a pain in the nether regions.

Labour and local versus national

Michael Wood came across very well on Q & A, articulate and confident.

Andrew Little not so much.

He sounds convinced that Labour efforts and successes in the local body elections and the Mt Roskill by-election will translate to the general election next year.

He seems convinced they are getting it right about campaigning on issues ‘that matter to new Zealanders’.

But he is repeatedly asked about Labour’s poor poll results – and he confirms their internal polls is a smidgen better than the recent Colmar Brunton 28% last week – but keeps avoiding that lingering problem.

Little and Labour seem convinced that what they are doing now is the right strategy for the election next year.

Having faith that local political strategies – people tend to vote on local issues in by-elections – will work for them in the big one next year is a big risk.

In the current turbulent political environment world wide anything could happen.

Little is getting more practiced at switching questions to his rehearsed lines. That approach didn’t work for Hillary Clinton in the US. It could work here, but at the moment Little is not working very well.

Labour slump in Roy Morgan poll

The November Roy Morgan poll has National on 49.5%, very similar to their recent Colmar Brunton result, but Labour has slumped to 23%, the lowest they have been since just after the 2014 election.

Greens have picked up a bit of Labour’s loss but combined they are on just 37.5% so their MoU looks like being a bad move (and this is backed by news reports that Labour members are deserting because of it).

  • National 49.5% (up from 48)
  • Labour 23% (down from 26.5)
  • Greens 14.5% (up from 11.5)
  • NZ First 8% (down from 10)
  • Maori Party 1.5% (no change)
  • Act Party 1% (up from 0.5)
  • United Future 0.5% (up from o)
  • Conservative Party 0.5% (up from 0)
  • Mana Party 0% (no change)
  • Internet Party 0 (down from 0.5)
  • Other 1.5% (no change)

Polling from 7-20 November.

Electors were asked: “If a New Zealand Election were held today which party would receive your party vote?” This latest New Zealand Roy Morgan Poll on voting intention was conducted by telephone – both landline and mobile telephone, with a NZ wide cross-section of 858 electors in November 2016. Of all electors surveyed 6.5% (unchanged) didn’t name a party.

Remember that like any poll this is just an approximate indication of past preferences. Roy Morgan polls have tended to vary quite a bit – but there’s probably a lot of soft and shifting support at the moment.

National are ending the year at the higher end of their recent range.

Labour look dire, and Labour+Greens looks to be a failure that will be difficult to undo, they are committed until the election with their Memorandum of Understanding (or they will get rubbished if they dump it).

Greens have been on 14% or 14.5% in seven of this year’s Roy Morgan polls.

It’s interesting to see that NZ First haven’t benefited from Labour’s slide, despite Winston’s efforts to jump on the Trump bandwagon.