Walker stepping down, Muller steps up, but National down and out of contention

After admitting sending personal details of Covid cases to several media outlets National MP Hamish Walker took the only course open to him – yesterday he pre-empted a Party board meeting considering a request to dump him from the party by announcing he wouldn’t stand in the Clutha Southland (now Southland) electorate in September’s election.

Personal Statement From Hamish Walker

Today I am announcing that I will not be standing for re-election for the Southland electorate at the upcoming 2020 election.

I wish to thank the people of Clutha-Southland who I have loved meeting, assisting and representing over the past two and a half years.

I sincerely apologise for my actions.

I will be making no further comment.

Todd Muller Accepts Hamish Walker’s Decision Not To Stand In 2020

National Party Leader Todd Muller has today accepted Hamish Walker’s decision to withdraw his candidacy for the seat of Southland and not stand at the upcoming election.

“Rachel Bird, the National Party’s Southern Regional Chair, has received a letter from Hamish confirming he will withdraw as the National Party candidate for Southland.

“There was a clear breach of trust, which goes against the values National holds as a party.

“The National Party Board will still meet today to discuss the selection of a new candidate.”

Statement From Peter Goodfellow, National Party President

Yesterday evening I received a letter from Leader Todd Muller, asking the National Party Board of Directors to urgently meet and consider some very serious, publicly reported, issues concerning Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker.

The Board met at midday today (Wednesday 8 July) via videoconference and was advised that Mr Walker has now formally resigned his candidacy for the National Party in the Southland Electorate for the 2020 General Election.

A selection process will therefore begin almost immediately to find a new candidate for the Southland Electorate, and we look forward to a robust and democratic process.

On behalf of the National Party Board of Directors, I would like to apologise for any distress caused to the individuals concerned as a result of the actions of one of our Members of Parliament.

RNZ: Hamish Walker’s exit from politics ‘was the only option’ – Todd Muller

In an announcement on transport this afternoon, Muller said the board will be looking at installing a new National Party candidate for Southland in the coming days.

“This was the only option because as we have well traversed the events of the last few days have not reflected from my perspective the appropriate National Party behaviour and values.

“He has worked very hard for his community over the last three years, and ultimately it was an error of judgement, a serious error of judgement that has cost him his career.

“It’s the right decision and I acknowledge that and now of course we seek to move on.”

He said he would not talk through the advice Walker had received, which was in a letter between himself and Walker.

Muller said Walker’s judgement was “fundamentally flawed”.

“And I’m on record a number of times now confirming that, and he’s paid the ultimate price of doing that.

“This is an isolated incident and we’ve got to see it through that lens, and I have acted very swiftly and we’ve got the right outcome.”

He said his MPs were clear around the expectations of them and they reflected a party with a “fine tradition of values, of achievement for this country and every one of us knows that we are there because at the last election well over a million people supported our cause and our view that the government is stronger when we’re in control”.

“Hamish Walker went behind my back and made his own judgement, and I’m sure that he is ruing it today.

“We have had one MP who made a serious error and has paid the ultimate price in terms of his political career. I think that talks to a party that does have high standards and when people breach them there is consequences.

“It was totally inappropriate for that personal information to be leaked to the media, because they are New Zealanders who are suffering because they have Covid and are in a constrained environment.”

But he said National would continue to critique the government’s “every day glitches” in the managed isolation programme.

“The government continues to demonstrate by the day actually that their border management is still not at the expectations that New Zealanders have of keeping us safe.”

What Michelle Boag and Hamish walker did reflects very poorly on the National Party. Walker is a first MP but especially after his Clutha Southland predecessor Todd Barclay crashed and burned his political career Walker should have been well aware of the dangers of stuffing up.

Walker should have also been well aware that personal information given to MPs has special privacy requirements.

Boag has shown that her long history of political involvement is a risk to any other work she does, as she has put political dirt first. She is likely to be shunned by National from now but she knows a lot of people in the party and it will be hard for her to be separated from it.

Leader Todd Muller has had a disaster to deal with, and I think he has dealt with it about as well as he could have. He made it clear he was totally opposed to what happened, and he made it clear that he had lost confidence in Walker and that Walker should resign, which he did.

In an adverse situation Muller looked reasonably principled and decisive, considering he had to allow Walker and the party to make decisions, and had to deal with legal issues.

But despite looking more sort of like leader material Muller has to now deal with his party in a dire situation. National’s chances of succeeding this election looked a long shot before this happened, but it now looks like they are virtually out of contention.

Unless Jacinda Ardern resigns or does something terrible, or someone in Labour does something as bad as Walker and it is handled poorly by Ardern and the party, or Covid turns to custard in New Zealand, then it looks likely now Ardern and Labour should cruise back into power.

Labour are sort of vulnerable on the economic risks, but that looks well covered with wage subsidies running through to September, and large amounts of money are being dished out around the country to try to keep the economy from crashing. It would take a major turn for the worse in the next two months for this to risk labour’s re-election.

So Muller and National are left to try to rescue as much support as possible to prevent their caucus from being decimated. It is too early to tell how bad the Boag/Walker effect will be, but National will struggle to get over 40% this election, and could easily crash to under 30%.