The most interesting part of today (apart from the confused passage of a certain constitutional remit dealing with Schrodinger’s Youth Wing) was unquestionably Ron Mark-watching.
We all know he’s a solid and often stellar performer in Parliament. But the big question some observers had was whether the same man who’d recently come to command the loyalty of Caucus would be able to pull off the same feat with the broad mass of the Party faithful.
This matters, because as we’ve already seen, there is an emerging and evolving conversation about what New Zealand First might look like After Winston. And at this stage, it’s less about “whom” and more about “whether”. As in, wondering if such a thing is even possible.
We’ll detail the case for Ron Mark in a future article on this site (the fallout from Part Two was kinda … um … epic) – but watching his address to our Convention this morning, I definitely got the sense there’s hope.
The three essential things which any hypothetical post-Winston Party Leader absolutely *has* to have are i) the ability to motivate and coagulate the surprisingly disparate “family” of people (from an incredibly diverse panoply of political persuasions) which constitutes NZ First; ii) the mana, personnel-management and team-building ability to wrangle and get the best out of MPs and other Parliamentary-siders; iii) that extra ingredient of a genuine affability, charisma and relatability which will enable the Leader to carry his message beyond the Party faithful and out into the Electorate.
From what I’ve seen today, Ron Mark has all three in spades.
It started with his speech on membership and fundraising.
Now, as EVERYONE in ANY (voluntary, but especially political) organization knows … the twin life-blood commodities of your entity are these two things. You can’t do very much at all without money (although NZ First’s highly impressive electoral return in 2011 suggests you CAN do a helluvalot with the right quotient of grit, determination, and borderline-crazy faith on your side); and more importantly, without members you quite literally do not have an organization in the first place.
Despite this, they are often two of the absolute least-sexy subjects to talk about – particularly at a political Convention.
We’re here to discuss the big, weighty issues of the day (often thought to be policy remits) – and for many people, bog-standard-yet-essential humdrum logistical issues like the supply of people and materials to our operation just doesn’t enter into that.
But if we are to continue to grow, thrive and survive as a Party – particularly post-Winston – these are the fundamental issues that are going to decide whether that’s even possible to begin with.
I was therefore comprehensively amazed, shocked and surprised when Ron got up and delivered a speech which absolutely ELECTRIFIED THE ROOM about these twin themes.
Drawing upon his military experience to frame the issue in terms of “troops” and “ammunition” (otherwise known as “membership” and “money”, respectively), he managed to sketch out in what can only be described as a uniquely compelling way why we had to get serious about both.
Politics, as he explained, is a war. Every day in Parliament (or, I suppose, in my case, on social media and in the blogosphere) is a battle. We are engaged in a fight for our Nation’s survival, against well-resourced and numerous enemies.
The only way we stay in the fight is by ensuring a constant flow of manpower and munitions to the front. Our front.
Anything else, and we take the most valiant cause imaginable – with some of the greatest and most dedicated political warriors around … and turn it into a somewhat forlorn hope.
Now I’m fully aware that this is not the most detailed, comprehensive nor inspiring rhetoric. It’s not that I can’t do inspiring oratical flourishes … it’s just that it’s 3 a.m at the time of writing and I’ve just gotten back to our motel room after spending the best part of the evening hanging with some of the better elements of our Caucus, on top of a full Convention program from approx. 9 a.m this morning.
So pretend that the actual-authentic-Ron-Mark version of the above was sufficiently awesome that you feel like getting up and charging out of your seat to go doorknock the next three streets over while rapid-firing membership forms and donation slips … and you won’t be far off.
The idea of building New Zealand First into the genuine mass-membership Party we’ve always known it can be … replete with a longevity such that our children and grandchildren are, themselves, able to vote for and seek election with same … is an incredibly powerful one. And one whose time, I believe, has come.
But there’s more to keeping the Party together and moving forward than just inspiring our infantrymen to excel at the basics. Hearing him introduce the other first-term MPs to the Convention for their intro-speeches, I got a sense of the teambuilding and cohesion he’s been able to pull off in Caucus. Given MP-wrangling is a large portion of both a successful Deputy Leader and a successful Leader’s job (for key evidence as to why, check what happened to NZF’s Caucus in 1998 … or why Tracey ain’t Deputy Leader no more), I was immensely intrigued and relieved to see that this was the case.
Our new MPs all acquitted themselves handsomely – and it’s getting increasingly hard to pick favourites. But two things stood out to me. First, of the ones I know well – and have, in many respects, grown up alongside – Darroch Ball and Ria Bond, it’s genuinely satisfying to see their growth into and beyond being Parliamentary-grade orators. Mahesh Bindra, too, managed to really set the curve with his speech. And I was genuinely touched by his description of the tragic events which, in 2006, partially lead to him embracing the Party with as much faith, fire and fervor as he has.
But second, Ron had quite clearly sized each of them up and gotten to know the strengths, aptitudes and deployability of all his new assets. I was particularly impressed with his summations of these, and ability to seek out personal resonances and points of motivating commonality with all of them.
That’s the mark of a leader.
It’s somebody who knows how to get the best out of his troops.
And it really, really did come through that here stood a man who had, for several decades of his life, spent much time doing *exactly* that.
(Albeit, there’s arguably a *sliiiight* degree of difference between a crack Special Forces unit and an NZ First Caucus of MPs … although I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what, if anything, that might be)
Between this, and his (similarly career-Officer-informed) demonstrable expertise with logistics, I genuinely feel that with Ron Mark at our forefront … we’re in a remarkably competent pair of hands to take us forward into the next phase of our development, as a Party – and as a Movement.
Oh, also … I noted with interest Ron Mark singling out Darroch as someone who’d be a future Defence Minister if he had anything to do with it. (The only first-term MP he introduced to receive such a high accolade)
It did cross my mind that Mark wouldn’t have been so impolitic as to publicly stake out his future choice in Deputy Leader *quite* this early in overt terms. Particularly while the Leader position is still completely-ably filled.
But I’m calling it now.