BBQ at Simon’s place – Bill English is on the menu
I was thinking about the recent rumblings in the National Party towards their ‘leadership team’, and something didn’t quite add up.
The main reasons why you’ll see challenges mounted towards a Party’s Leader and Deputy is pretty simple – the Party either did poorly at the last Election … or looks set to do poorly at the next one. There’s a subsidiary reason-set concerned with the personalities occupying those positions facing immediate and seemingly insurmountable scandals (perhaps one might say this is what happened to Don Brash during the 2005-2008 Term) – but those tend to tie themselves right back to that second reason.
In National’s case, it’s doubtful whether either reason is the case.
It’s true to state that they did not “win” the 2017 General Election – insofar as they are not, presently, the bedrock of a Governing Coalition.
But the plain fact is that they did not exactly “lose” support themselves last year, except in purely percentage terms. In actuality, their number of votes went *up* on 2014, and only shrank as a proportion of the overall vote due to increased turnout.
So while ordinarily, there would arguably be a prima facie case for a defeated National Party to be looking around for a head to fall upon the chopping-block following an unsuccessful Election campaign … I’m not quite sure that a reasonable observer would agree that it needs to be the case here. After all, Bill English did *well* better than many people expected; and the “loss”, in practical terms took place at the Coalition Negotiation stage rather than at the ballot-box or on Election Night proper.
Certainly, a *certain former Minister* who was doing a lot of campaign managing for National over the last few years, *does* look like a potentially viable target for National internal scorn right now – but he is neither Bill English nor Paula Bennett, and therefore a leadership challenge would not directly put paid to him.
Now this leads me on to the *second* frequent-potential-reason-for-
And for various reasons, I genuinely don’t think that many Nats are in *that* basket either.
The main reason we can tell this, I think, is that if they *were* we’d probably have started to see a few List MPs either resign or begin making noises about doing so. Either because they think there’s something better they can be doing now and they want to go out before National slides any further … or because they don’t think that waiting around for three years will actually get them their old jobs and perks back.
Or, from a less ‘voluntary’/’altruistic’ perspective .. because they’ve been low-key *forced out* in order to make way for “rejuvenation” by bringing in new Backbenchers and promoting upwards on the List into Shadow Cabinet and the like from the extant crop.
The fact that we *haven’t* seen this indicates – to me at least – that there’s a fairly high level of confidence in the National Party that they won’t do significantly *worse* in 2020 than they did in 2017, and with other changes in the psephological terrain … may even find themselves back in Pole Position once more.
National’s polling in the most recent Reid Research remaining steady [in fact, going *up* by 0.1%] despite Labour’s climb would further serve to underpin this.
Although against this, I suppose, you have Bill English [never the most charismatic of operators] sliding back into the mid-twenties for Preferred Prime Minister – but again, this was never a particular strength of his, and would *always* have happened against Ardern.
Anyway, that brings me to the crux of the matter.
The problem for whichever Nats are attempting to spread rumours of discontent about English/Bennett … is NOT likely to be as retribution for a poor electoral performance last year – because there wasn’t one. It’s ALSO not likely to be a pre-emptive strike and ‘clearing of house’ to set up for frantic efforts to improve the party’s prospects in 2020 – because that arguably isn’t necessary. Bill English connects with the right National voter demographics, and will probably connect with even more if NZF’s brief run at the “Center-Right” bloc of support continues to unravel with its present speed.
This leaves the somewhat rare potential reasoning for a coup of personal animosity between one or more of the leadership team and one or more of the factions within National itself.
And here, I think, we have struck paydirt.
I doubt it will be Bill English, either – particularly after some of the stuff that has apparently come out about Paula Bennett [c.f her demand for ‘skits’ in Caucus meetings etc.]
If Bill is being threatened as well, despite his positive results [relatively speaking] a few months ago, then it suggests that somebody’s had a quiet word to him about escalating discontentment about Bennett, and he’s made the decision to stand by his Deputy even despite the criticism.
Thus implicitly creating a scenario wherein National is effectively presented with the choice of supporting Bill and therefore *also* Bennett … or potentially seeing how they feel about getting rid of both simultaneously.
Compromise options in the middle are, as ever, a potential medium-grade possibility (you don’t get far in National without at least a *certain* facility at going back on previously held positions in pursuit of personal advancement or the maintenance of one’s loftily-held position, after all).
But with the possibility of *making things worse* for National both internally and at the next Election by getting rid of English/Bennett no doubt *also* weighing upon the average Nat MP’s mind … perhaps no serious moves will be undertaken just yet, pending any marked scandal or poll deterioration over the coming Term.
And further complicating the issue will be the paucity of potential replacements for Bill that National can conceivably unite around – with Judith Collins predictably having her own iteration of the #ABC political phenomenon, for a start; Simon Bridges perhaps being too unctuous as well as arguably too young [I somehow doubt whether National likes the optics on attempting to get a relatively young leader in as much as Labour did], and Nikki Kaye arguably likewise [and, for that matter, a metropolitan Aucklander].
Still, I have no doubt that Bennett will have gotten both a shock and a sudden rage-spike at what’s happened here. Somebody on one of my threads referred to her as a “sociopathic kindergarten teacher”; and I’ve previously seen memery to the effect of a Dolores Umbridge kinda characterization.
She’ll presumably become ever-more-insufferable as a result of somebody attempting a nuking-by-media against her; which may yet further inflame internal tensions within National, and might hopefully contribute more towards her eventual ouster.
As they say … couldn’t have happened to a nastier person.
Also, as a side-note/addendum about this business of Bennett wanting “skits” performed at National Party Caucus meetings …
I did wonder whether the logical takeaway about this was …
… that she’s actually acutely aware that the average Nat Minister isn’t sharp enough to actually *get* anything you present to them, unless it’s in a suitably over-dramatic, live-acted-out-in-front-of-you form.
Why do we have a housing crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress them up as bricks-and-mortar and/or overseas investors or something, and demonstrate how “affordability” works with camp dialogue in front of Nick Smith.
Why do we have a river-is-full-of-effluent crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress ’em up as a river, and then uh … well, I’m sure imaginations would have been deployed to demonstrate (again, for Nick Smith) the next part.
Part of me, when I first read about this, was rather aghast that my mental characterization of Paula Bennett as the sort of overbearing INFANTILIZER OF ALL SHE SURVEYS actually *did* seem to be entirely, 100% accurate
But like I say. I’m now wondering whether she was just simply aware of the best method to get results out of some of her even *more* lackluster colleagues.