GUEST BLOG: Duncan Eddy – Just a Little Bit of History Repeating?


 Bill English seems to be as inept at leading the National Party now as he was in 2002, when the Party suffered its worst ever defeat at the polls. So, if John Key is the Keith Holyoake of our modern era, is Bill English the modern version of Holyoake’s hapless deputy, John Marshall?

Holyoake, said to be Key’s political hero, led the National Party to 4 consecutive election victories in the 1960’s before handing over the reigns to his long serving and long suffering Deputy, John Marshall, popularly known as “Gentleman Jack”.  The National Government suffered a crushing electoral defeat soon after the leadership change.

Years earlier, Holyoake and Marshall had struck a succession deal, similar to the agreement between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Deputy, Gordon Brown.  Marshall offered his loyalty as Deputy on the condition that Holyoake would one day step down and hand him the leadership.  Both Marshall and Brown subsequently waited much longer to serve as Prime Minister than they had anticipated, as Holyoake and Blair’s personal popularity and desire for power remained strong for many years.  It’s not unlikely that the economically liberal John Key sealed the deal that saw him elevated to the National Party leadership with a similar succession agreement with the socially conservative Bill English.

Holyoake, like Key an instinctual populist, served as Prime Minister for 12 years before passing on the leadership to his Deputy just 10 months before the 1972 general elections. The Marshall Government suffered a resounding defeat at the polls that year, when voters delivered a 23 seat majority to Norman Kirk’s Labour.  This was a very substantial majority, as there were only 87 MPs in New Zealand’s Parliament at the time.

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While there are clear parallels between the political style and careers of John Key and Keith Holyoake, is it fair to compare Gentleman Jack Marshall and Bill English? Some say that 2002 was not Bill English’s time, that he was up against an undefeatable Prime Minister at the height of her electoral popularity, but has now proven his capability during his 8 years as Deputy PM, and will be a solid Prime Minister.  Yet almost every time he has opened his mouth in recent weeks English has been shooting himself in the foot.

When news broke of the loss of 362 jobs at Dunedin’s Cadburys Factory he fluffed and waffled, saying  ”I’d imagine that with the kind of support that both central and local government can give to those 300 people, we would expect a proportion of them would be able to get some sort of work, if that’s what they want to do.”

Not long after that he defended importing foreign labour by claiming that too many New Zealand workers are lazy druggies. It later turned out that the most recent Ministry of Social Development figures showed that only 0.17% of job seeking beneficiaries required to take compulsory drug tests over a 12 month period failed the tests. That’s about 1 fail per 600 tests.

And this, of course, was followed by the mother of all political errors –  his dreadful mishandling of the superannuation eligibility age. Superannuation was an issue that English didn’t need to touch, and he should have avoided going anywhere near it.  Perhaps he’s just desperate to get some attention, but it seems that Bill English might be as poor a political leader now as he was in 2002.  He’s starting to look like a possum in the headlights.

Contrast this to the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, who’s strengths and smarts as a leader have been frequently to the fore in recent weeks. Little may not be our modern Big Norm, but Labour has been getting all the good headlines while National has been stumbling and fumbling from news cycle to news cycle.

After the 1972 election defeat, Marshall was dumped as National Party leader and replaced by Rob Muldoon. Bill English, again, seems to be on course to repeat the same fate as Gentleman Jack.  National Party leadership hopefuls will be eyeing up their chances and sharpening their knives.


Duncan Eddy is a Purakaunui writer, publisher and community activist. His most recent publication, “The Stories Behind the Streetnames in Historic Port Chalmers” is available on request at


  1. The comparison of the leaders is quite apt. The thing is though that issues such as Cadburys, employment and compulsory drug testing and Superannuation have to bite deep into disenchantment so much that people care. Care enough to get off their bums and vote or care enough to change their vote from last time.

    The comfort levels of the masses is such that it’s hard to sense any groundswell. And those in that comfort level will want the status quo rather than any alternative, they won’t be changing. And to keep what they’ve got they will get out and vote.

    • One thing we can say though is that Bill English is the same lacklustre character who decimated his party the last time he was PM.

      And he will do it again.

      And even if he does win the election in September , long term , – the war is lost . He knows it , the National party rank and file knows it , and we all know it.

      If Bill English becomes PM , he will grind that party down so badly that in the public’s view it will become a divided camp and because of that we can expect some very long periods of a Labour led govt into the future.

      Bill English is neither a safe fiscal planner nor is he an astute strategic political planner. Nor is he actually a very good politician – barring the one and only ability of his to simply under-perform and ignore valid criticism and the reality of his general unpopularity. Even his seniority in National owes more to his being a career politician of longstanding and his slavish , dogmatic adherence to neo liberalism than it does to actual public popularity based on merit.

      He lacks the quality of being able to think on his feet fast enough and also the self discipline to avoid blurting out the true motives and intentions of the neo liberal ideology.

      As time goes on , – unfortunately so for so many New Zealanders who will have to endure more terms under this govt – we will see constant questioning by the media , gaffes and an increasingly vocal group highlighting the social decline in this country under English’s non governance ( His preferred default position as the neo liberal is passionate about small govt – none at all if they could get away with it and still get paid to pretend ) . More and more we will see the absolute ‘Mary Antoinette – ishness ‘ of this neo liberal clique.

      Wrongdoing always has a certain shelf life whereas truth is eternal.

      And for English and his backers that time has almost expired.

      • Siobahn (below sort of sums it up.)

        You say Bill English is a “lacklustre character”, neither a safe fiscal planner nor an astute strategic political planner. He is not a very good politician and he also lacks the quality of being able to think on his feet fast.

        Is that enough to rouse the average non-voter from last time to get off the sofa and vote? Vote against him? How many National voters of last time will vote against them because of those things, how many who voted for them last time won’t vote at all this time?

        When it gets down to it, for all the reasonableness of your summary of his abilities, things like numbers on here are what it gets down to:

        • Agreed . I think your quite right. Its going to take a power of some very nasty downturns coupled with a fair few radical initiatives by Labour to put a bomb under the voter base these days.

          I think English will prove to be his own worst enemy and that of Nationals eventually ,… and their demise will be more of a case of a slow grinding attrition rather than a fired up and inspired voter base from any new startling ideas from Labour.

          Which is a real shame for those of us who are chaffing at the bit to see the end of this current English driven govt.

    • Hi Pete. Winning a fourth term would have been a heavyweight political achievement for Key. It’s only happened twice before, and in no small part due to the Prime Ministers personalities. Seddon and Holyoake could do it, Key and Kirk probably could have done it too. But Bill English clearly isn’t in the same league as these past prime ministers, National are vulnerable for the first time since 2008, and it could come down to one or two seats either way.

  2. English may be inept, but judging from Andrew Little’s poor performance on THE NATION last Saturday, he’s hardly much better.

    I fear Labour is yet again sleep-walking to defeat.

  3. Don’t get your hopes up just yet of a big defeat. Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern need to get cracking and make some solid policy. They also need to show that they are not afraid to defend it.

    Gonna be honest. Jacinda has a habit of going “oh, that’s horrible – I can see your problem”, which is fine when dealing with constituents needing sympathy, but she does not offer solutions. So I think the comment by someone in the media that she is a bantam featherweight when it comes to debating is probably true.

    • It’s not the leader’s job, nor the deputy leader’s, to “make policy”. That’s the whole party’s job, unless the party is some kind of cartoonish dictatorship where representatives invent policy on the fly during media interviews (ring any bells?). The leader’s job is to explain and defend their party’s policy, using language simple enough for a well-informed 12 year old to understand, which in turn requires the leader to do their other job, which is to actually *understand* their party’s policy.

  4. Do you really think the average National voter cares about any of this??

    And on the other side of the ledger ‘do you really think Labour are proposing anything that will inspire anyone other than their usual ‘middle ground voters’?…

    Its a static endgame of pragmatic middle ground hogwash…and my pick, even if Labour do get in, it will hardly be a resounding mandate for anything – other than being not nearly as psychotic in manner and tone as National are.

    • ” Its a static endgame of pragmatic middle ground hogwash…and my pick, even if Labour do get in, it will hardly be a resounding mandate for anything – other than being not nearly as psychotic in manner and tone as National are.”

      Unfortunately I think that’s quite near the mark. Could it possibly be the two armies sizing each other up and collecting intel stage before the main assault or could it just simply be the timid ‘done by small increments’ ‘ because we are so jolly afraid to make the horses bolt ‘ mentality…

      That’s the one concern. I think English will grind out the Key aura very quickly – those frigid , stark policy’s will not have the gloss Key provided… however … a true departure from Nationals legacy seems by Labour to be almost not differentiated enough… perhaps we have yet to see something pulled out of the bag from Labour.

      But they certainly do seem a little slow in pushing the offensive for real change.

      • I agree with both Siobhan and Wild Katipo. I couldn’t believe Litlle said Labour wouldn’t alter tax rates. My god, our top tax rate is historically and comparatively low. We could bump that up to 45% and that would still be in line with Aust’s and the UK’s top tax rates.

        I understand we can’t return to post-WWII tax rates, and that income tax-rates aren’t as powerful as they once were, but that’s where CGT and FTT become more necessary. Even if Labour get in for 9 years, I can’t see wealth inequality reducing much, if at all.

        If Labour are going to turn away from identity issues, they could at least turn towards class issues. I hope Labour have the Greens and Mana pulling them to the left, otherwise, what’s the point (yes, I know National suck)

        • And Andrew Little answered to a question about the Accommodation Supplement, Labour had no policy on that either!? I could not believe it, when I heard it in that interview with Lisa Owen on The Nation.

          FFS, that is a top up those many on benefits and the working poor depend on, to even pay part of their rents.

          Also do Labour NEVER mention the work beneficiary, I noted, as if that would mean talking about the plague.

          How can we trust such a party, that does avoid all answers to valid questions, and offers little policy?

        • I sympathise to some extent, but to be honest I think what Gareth Morgan’s entry to the debate has shown is that bumping up *income* tax to catch ‘the rich’ is a noob move. Once upon a time, progressive income tax probably did get you a decent line on ‘the rich’ – but not these days. As Morgan has shown, if you want to go after ‘the rich’ like a pro, you don’t bugger about with wages, you go after assets and wealth, which in NZ means land and property. Putting up income tax at the high end just means triangulating the middle class into the arms of National.

          There’s a reason that Morgan’s resolve to turn away from income and towards land, property, luxury vehicles and maritime pleasure craft, etc. had Paul Henry far angrier than any Labour or Green economic policy in recent memory: it will actually net ‘the rich’. It actually goes after where they make their money, and where they keep it safe from the tax man. Wage earners are the ones who can’t hide from PAYE. The real rich are barely touched by it.

          • It’s funny how a man with no political experience & only Business is wiping the floor with veteran Politicians & Media in 4D chess games. Thank-fully Garreth is reminding every one that a “Career” in Politics doesn’t automatically make for effective Political leaders.

            The way Garreth and TOP has introduced everything from Candidates and policy to civics should be appreciated for it’s honesty. So policy formation drives leadership instead of saying anything to get in to parliament

  5. It’s beyond me as to why we think our politicians must be quick, clever, cunning, aggressive, fleet of verbal foot etc. What about honesty, pragmatism, common sense and good humour? Our politicians should be able to verbally stroll casually about amongst us without having to be 10 x’s as wily as Frank Underwood of House of Cards. We’re not expected to be so by each other, therefore, why are they? What are our politicians hiding?? Why is their well paid deceit so solomnly tollerated by us. That’s is not why we pay them. To be sneaky, cruel, emotionally devoid and deviant. Is it?? Or am I missing something here? Should that be what we should be like? Like them? If I was to behave like a vicious, ugly, mean, cruel politician I certainly wouldn’t so well kissed by my loving partner. I would be loathed by my friends and it’d be a lonely Christmas and birthday.
    bill english has all the personality of twisted, talking drift wood. jonky was like a nest of winged rat clones with a gift of the gab. Everything he said had to be double analysed, debated and pondered because we all knew; those ‘straight’ of us and the bent too knew he was up to something. Jonky was always ‘up to something’. A sneaky, lying, little shit. The banking and real estate industry must be in awe of The Master.
    Bill’s a farmer who’s treachery to his own people and his own trade’s busting to get out. I see it everywhere. It’s like sunlight trying to get into a crypt of lies. His neighbours and fellow farmers just down the road would lynch the bastard if the collective penny dropped and every NZ farmer in every province spontainesouly realised at exactly the same time just how manipulated, swindled and cheated they’ve been by their own kind. NZ Primary Industry producer boards? Think Auckland real estate industry and their lawyer minions on steroids and P? ( Not far from the truth by the looks. Meth and sewage
    NZ agriculture was a perfect storm for rampant plundering and the spectre of the horror of that phenomenon being unpicked and publicly debated must cause bills haemorrhoids to twitch maniacally. Because, seriously? That guy has piles. His eyes cannot lie.
    NZ’s had $-billions swindled away by players like bill and jonky for generations. Bill and jonky are not new, unique or unusual remember.

    What is new, however, is the internet. Virtual haemorrhoids popping out all over the place.

    Oh, what rats might be flushed from the woodpile once the last log’s lifted?

    • Bill is not a farmer and never has been but from a farming family.Educated in Wellington,St Pats, Vic uni with degree in literature then to treasury then a career politician.He is a wonk from the Wellington beltway who knows nothing about how to run a business or has any idea about how the real world operates, a complete dick.

    • They have to be decisive or seen to be decisive. NZ voters will follow anyone they think decisive over anyone who makes considered decisions and shows any doubt.
      Wrong trumps indecisive every time; Key was totally plugged into that.

    • They have to be decisive or seen to be decisive. NZ voters will follow anyone they think decisive over anyone who makes considered decisions and shows any doubt.
      Wrong trumps indecisive every time; Key was totally plugged into that.

  6. “Contrast this to the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little, who’s strengths and smarts as a leader have been frequently to the fore in recent weeks.”

    I might have agreed with this before I saw Andrew Little wading into the
    (anti) vaccination debate. He’s come out strongly for NZ to follow Australia’s impending policy (which was actually dreamed up by Tony Abbot’s hard-right advisor Peta Credlin) of excluding unvaccinated kids from early-childhood education centres.

    This isn’t an issue that affects me personally, but like English on superannuation, vaccinations are an issue Little “didn’t need to touch, and he should have avoided going anywhere near it.” If this is Little’s best attempt at populism, it appears he’s not very good at it.

    • Totally agree. It is well documented in medical literature today that the obsession to over-vaccinate is destroying peoples’ immunity. There is also strong connections, especially with mercury contamination, linking overvaccination with the unprecedented rise in autism.

      As populations become better informed , issues such as mandatory vaccination especially where their children are concerned, can make the staunchest of Labour supporters vote against them.

      Little goes from strength to weakness.

      • You mean the literature invented by the nut job anti-vaxer brigade? There’s no evidence for your ludicrous claims. Stop obsessing about post-truth rubbish like “the obsession to over-vaccinate is destroying peoples’ immunity” and think about the bigger picture (Natz destroying society, the environment, the business community etc).

      • I am aghast at such an appallingly ignorant comment. The ‘researcher’, Dr Andrew Wakefield, who had claimed a link with autism, has been utterly disgraced, and struck off the UK medical register. Please do not bring such despicable conspiracy theory stuff to this discussion.

  7. Little and his recent media performances have not altered my view that Labour are just political opportunists and don’t give me any confidence at all that they will be any different to what we have now.

    If they truly believed in their own agenda and policies then why does Little not articulate this better, he gives me the impression that he has no confidence in what he is promoting and stumbles and is indecisive when pushed in these interviews.

    There is no belief or passion in what should be by now a strong Labour party promoting a real left agenda based on what the party was formed for in the first place and its founding principles ,there should be a ton of confidence in advocating for what you REALLY believe in and that you really want to act and help the thousands like me who are waiting for a reason to vote Labour to get real change and motivate kiwis to get out vote.

    This should be a watershed election signalling a move away from what has been the political narrative for so long, but myself and others just don’t feel the excitement that Labour is is on a roll here and that it will be any different and that its just another sleepwalk to victory or defeat.

    • “Little and his recent media performances have not altered my view…”

      Perhaps the problem is that you are relying on the picture being painted of Labour by heavily biased commercial media organisations? You know, the ones that get to decide which interviews do and don’t get broadcast, and which soundbites do and don’t feature in the “news”? If Labour really were towing the “opportunist” or National-lite line, don’t you think the corporate media would be framing them as a strong, resurgent political force, ready to take the Treasury benches from a tired National? The very fact that Labour are still being made to look weak and foolish by the corporate media is circumstantial evidence that they are actually making serious moves to the left, which those media organisations don’t want people to see.

      Now to find out whether or not that’s true, you don’t even have to get off the couch (although that wouldn’t hurt). Just go and look directly at what policy Labour is offering on their own website, or hit up Labour MPs/ supporters about it on social media, rather than relying on the corporate propaganda machine known as “the news” to represent them to you. If that policy doesn’t satisfy you, debate them, and give them the evidence and arguments that you think justify different policy. I’m getting so tried of the consumerist approach to politics where people just sit and wait for some party to sell them a policy product they like, and do nothing but whinge when it doesn’t happen.

      • I have never relied on the corporate media painting me a picture in my life in fact if you care too look back at my many comments on this site and my replies to a post put that is put up just about every week concerning the “biased” right wing coverage and the journalists that peddle it in this country then maybe you would have framed your reply a little better.

        The point i was making is that, corporate bias or not Andrew Little is not performing at all well in this medium, he does not communicate well or get any cut through and allows himself to be bullied by the interrogator and he does not inspire confidence that he believes in what he is promoting and a lot of people i talk too watch THE interviews not the soundbite.

        I have been on the Labour website and there is some good policy but nothing about moving away entirely from the current economic system that causes so much of the inequality we have now.

        I will be joining a political party soon to contribute my time and energy to changing the country for the better in this years election campaign and i wont be spending much time on my couch being involved.

        Belief and commitment to policy means that its not negotiable every three years like superannuation which Labour has changed the age of entitlement twice in three years, that does nothing but cause confusion with the public in where Labour stands.

        I think as voters we are entitled to “whinge” after all we have been waiting nine long years for Labour to be a loud and unified voice for a lot of its constituency.

  8. Labour has to earn votes and not just sit there waiting to be government because eventually National will loose an election.

    It feels like arrogance to me and that they take their supporters or possible supporters for granted.

    I have been to TPPA meetings for example where the Labour members don’t work the crowd or take the time to meet people and listen to feedback or are outspoken about the current corruption of the National party and its friends.

    They are just waiting for the call and the ministerial office and perks no matter how long it takes.

    Its bloody depressing.

  9. Personally, I’d rather ACT worked with Judith Collins as PM than either John Key or Bill English.

    But it won’t stop ACT from engaging in coalitions with like-minded parties.

    We will not work in any coalition that has Winston Peters in it. He is too flaky.

    Enough said on the matter and the right will still win the next election.

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