Disunity is an electoral killer



There was another very significant piece of political maneuvering the week that Shearer resigned that unfortunately went largely unnoticed: for the first time since Key has been the leader of the National party, one of his MPs came out and publicly criticized him.  And not just any MP but Judith Collins, the person tipped to take over from Key when he steps down, came out swinging over the Henry inquiry, which was initiated by Key himself.

This is significant for two reasons:

1. Collins must believe that she has the numbers and support in caucus to go after Key.  Collins is not stupid and so this move was designed to test the strength of her support versus that of the PM on an important issue of principle, as well as show her supporters that she will not shy away from a fight (my understanding is that she was only articulating what a significant number of National MPs were saying behind closed doors). To me this is the first signal that there must now be some manoeuvring behind the scenes in the National caucus and that all is not happy in camp Key;

2. Key knows very well that disunity and ill-discipline is the one thing that the public will not tolerate.

It is no co-incidence that all three Labour contenders for the leadership talk strongly about unifying the caucus.  The reason for this strong rhetoric is that all have been privy to Labour polling which makes it very clear that nothing turns voters off more than public bickering within a political party.

Key won in 2008 because every one of his MPs remained totally focused on taking down Helen; and the only way to do this was exercise the same level of discipline that Helen herself was famous for.  We will never know exactly how many bodies deputy PM Cullen and Chief of Staff Simpson buried before the stench became public, but what we do know is that any whiff of dissent or ill-discipline was dealt with swiftly.  

Only through unity can a political party ever hope to win (or retain) the treasury benches. In fact Labour’s caucus has been put on very public notice by Jones, Cunliffe and Robertson, that if they simply can’t accept the result (and there are always losers in any leadership contest) then go, and go quietly and with dignity.  For some this will be hard.  If Cunliffe wins, it will be interesting to see how the very staunch few of the ABC club react, because the ability of the new leader to unify the caucus – and deal quickly and efficiently with those who may be tempted to show disunity – will be crucial if Labour is to have any chance of winning in 12 months time.

One of the main reasons why Shearer’s tenure ended so badly was because the public did not have confidence that the leader was in control of his caucus. Politically, this will always be fatal as it allows the politics of identity and factionalism to rise to the surface and undermine any pretence of unity and solidarity; which are so important to any political party’s chances of success.

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It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in the National party caucus room the week after Collin’s criticisms, but I suspect Key knows that he has also been put on notice: don’t f*** with very senior colleagues who have ambitions or else you may well find yourself met by a delegation at the airport telling you that you no longer have the numbers. Et tu Judith and Bill and Steven and Anne and…


  1. I hope ‘Crusher Collins’ becomes leader of the Nats. That woman never smiles….more like a grimace! She seems to have no sense of humour….a real cold fish that will put voters off!

  2. Camp Key must be concerned about the negativity against JK.
    Lets hope that by election time the public are more united and have a vision of the country they want without Key..

  3. Who needs a rouge man eating Bengal Tiger on the loose when you have Judith Collins roaming the neighbourhood.

  4. One of the reasons I lean Grant over David is the relative value of any expected unity cull. The dead wood MPs underpinning David’s caucus support are more numerous, are further from natural attrition by age, are – in my experience – much less diligent or effective, and have – by some accounts – been promised much more for their support than the so-called “very staunch few of the ABC club”. To my mind that means there’s a bigger opportunity to rebuild, renew and unify under Grant than there is under David.

  5. Collins may be a blessing in disguise, as she is so over self-assured of herself, she is prone to go overboard with comments and actions. She has as Minister of Justice also got herself entangled into controversy about the correct application of law and process, and it is highly likely she will continue to run herself into troubles.

    Her reputation may be good with certain hardline National Party members and supporters, but it is not good with the wider public, certainly not the better educated people.

    As for party unity, yes, it is very important, but re Labour and the potential new leaders, there is one major challenge and force to reckon with yet, which is totally underestimated by Stuart Nash and others: The mainstream media.

    No matter how well Labour may sort out its leadership, its caucus and future policies, the MSM are not keen on a Labour-Green government, and they make it abundantly clear. Just read the editorials, read the articles by senior journalists, political commentators, listen to the majority of talk back hosts, follow the news on radio, television and in print media, also online.

    Most of the MSM have been cheer-leading Key and his government all along, most are on the right of centre side, most are pro National indeed, and for public broadcasting, the government made sure they placed some key personnel in key positions, to give them a favourable kind of reporting.

    Come election time, we will see a repeat of what happened in 2008 and 2011. Even under Cunliffe, with the gift of the gab, and with competence, knowledge and convincing arguments, there will be the MSM shaping the minds of the public yet again.

    That is in my view the biggest challenge and danger to an overdue political change. They do NOT want a left of centre government, and the ‘4th estate’ is no longer behaving as such anymore, it is part of the system, and part of the establishment, wielding its powers.

    Hence social media, blogs and forums like this will have a special responsibility to inform on what the MSM refuses or fails to inform on, and the words must be spread beyond social media, to reach wider parts of the population, who read and hear nothing much of the truth, but rather get brainwashed day in and out.

    • You know, I’d have just said “Judith Collins is like Margaret Thatcher with neither the wit nor the charm,” but what you said will do too.

  6. I’m glad there is disunity in the National govt, Judith Collins makes John Key look like a pussycat. She probably has the backing of the “right wingers” but I would be surprised if the “middle” would vote for her. However we can all see the labour party is not exactly unified either, voters pick up on that as well.

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