Does National Still Need A Street-Fighting Man?


WHO WILL EMERGE from Friday’s emergency meeting of National caucus as the party’s No.1 and No. 2? Will it be the incumbents: Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett? Or will the election of Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye signal National’s return to a kinder, gentler conservatism? Does Judith “Crusher” Collins’ very public renunciation of her leadership ambitions indicate her intention to swing her support behind Bridges and Bennett? Or, is she backing Muller and Kaye in return for the crucial Finance portfolio? Are Collins’ supporters even numerous enough to swing this contest, or will Mark Mitchell’s handful of votes be required to nudge the eventual winners over the line? If so, what will Mitchell’s price be?

On the face of it, the election of Muller and Kaye is a no-brainer. New Zealanders are clearly in no mood for a “dirty little street-fighter” and, if the polls are any indication, resent strongly Bridges’ implication that they are. To be at all competitive with Labour, National needs a radical change of faces. Beating Jacinda’s “Kindness” will require of the Right a credible presentation of “Kindness+”. In the best of all possible contests that “plus” would be “Wisdom”. In its present mood, however, the best “plus” the Right is likely to offer the voters is “Competence”.

Like everything in electoral politics it will all come down to numbers. Who has them and who doesn’t. In the February 2018 caucus contest that gave New Zealand the Bridges/Bennett combination it seemed pretty clear that the liberal wing of the party backing Amy Adams didn’t have the numbers. The question to be answered now is whether or not the 27 months under Bridges/Bennett have convinced enough of National’s hard-liners that dirty street-fighting is not going to win them back the treasury benches. If the polls have sufficiently spooked them, then they may be persuaded to reluctantly shuffle left. Unspooked, they will keep their nerve and wait for Covid-19’s economic shit to hit the fan.

Empirically, the hardliners can point to the impressive solidity of National’s public support across all but a few of those 27 months (the big exception being the period following the Christchurch Mosque Shootings). They might also cite the salutary impact of Bridges’ dirty social media street-fighting on Labour’s popularity. Unbuttressed by crisis and calamity, they can fairly argue, Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues are sitting ducks. Thinking of political feather-brains like Phil Twyford, David Clark and Kelvin Davis it’s hard not to agree!

Those hardline Nats with a bent for military history might compare National’s position with that of the Germans at the Battle of the Somme. The Covid-19 health crisis, like the British artillery’s horrendous opening barrage, has indisputably shaken the defenders’ confidence – but has it been destroyed? When the whistles blew and the poor Tommies rose out of their trenches and began moving steadily across no man’s land towards what they had been assured was a pulverised enemy, the German machine-gunners mowed them down like corn. Substitute utter economic carnage for those German machine-gunners and the analogy becomes strikingly clear.

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The problem with political hardliners of every stripe is that they lack the flexibility of mind to put themselves in the position of their opponents. Not being able to imagine – and hence anticipate – what their enemy might do to thwart their plans, they are rendered incapable of adapting fixed strategies and tactics. The National Right has convinced itself that the Coalition Government lacks the experience and talent required to steer New Zealand safely through the Covid-19 induced recession. Confronted with ever-increasing numbers of failed businesses and unemployed workers, they see Jacinda and her colleagues freezing in the headlights of the Right’s oncoming truck. As far as National’s hardliners are concerned, all they have to do to win is make sure those headlights are kept on full-beam.

What they have singularly failed to grasp is that, as Laila Harré observed on Q+A on Monday night, the Covid-19 emergency has elevated Jacinda well above the plane of a mere party leader or prime minister. It has transformed her into New Zealand’s leader: the woman credited with doing the right thing to defend her people by an astonishing 92 percent of Reid Research’s respondents. A political dynamic is operating here that goes way beyond mere partisanship. Jacinda has not only changed the way her people look at her, she has changed the way she looks at herself. You cannot bring down such leaders, you can only wait for them to fall.

Jacinda does not have to do anything more between now and 19 September than urge New Zealanders to endure the pain. Like Winston Churchill in 1940, she need offer them nothing more in the immediate term than “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. But, if they can hold out in these fortunate islands; if they are willing to give her and Labour the votes they need to finish the job of rebuilding and recovery; ah well, then, in Churchill’s wonderfully evocative words: “the life of the world can move forward into broad sunlit uplands”. This is the new reality that the National Opposition has to grasp: that Labour does not need to win the battle of the present, if it has already won the battle of the future.

Which is not to suggest that Jacinda and her government are incapable of slipping and falling. Unanticipated obstacles, new disasters, may yet send dark clouds scudding across those sunlit uplands. If they do, then who is better placed to comfort and inspire their dispirited compatriots: Simon Bridges and Paula Bennet, or Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye?

There have been times in New Zealand’s political history when its more conservative citizens have been in the market for “a dirty little street-fighter”. One thinks of Sid Holland, who tamed the militant unions in 1951. Or Rob Muldoon in 1975, promising conservatives New Zealand the way they (not the Left) wanted it. In 2005, it was Don Brash who asserted the rights of “Kiwi” over “Iwi”. These were the leaders chosen by National for times of “Us” versus “Them”.

These are not such times. The Covid-19 global pandemic of 2020 has brought the New Zealand people closer together. They are not looking for a National Opposition determined to drive them apart.



  1. If it’s Muller and Kaye will this signal the political end of Nick Smith and Gerry Brownlee? Or are their heads so buried in the trough, they’re there for life?

  2. Labour’s talent pool is a big concern.

    Quite rightly mentioned in that puddle is the fool Twyford who on virtually every promise in transport has not just failed but absolutely not delivered anything.

    And let’s not mention housing. Has anyone ever so completely stuffed up a portfolio as much as that guy has?

      • Bridges? Leave the relentlessly negative man right where he is.

        Sorry, it’s just the mere mention of Phil bloody Twyford and the vast wasted opportunities he represents, it just gets me going.

  3. They can knife each other in the back until the last rat is left standing.
    It won’t change the fact.
    They have NO fit for purpose policies. None of their neoliberal bullshit is relevant.

    They are trying to sell failed old 20th Century policies for a new 21st Century environment.

    And of course, they can’t have a female leader.
    Because the heads of their “anti-Cindy” neanderthal supporters would explode. That’s why Kaye has been allotted a stab at Deputy only. Heaven forbid she be offered up as actual leader.

    And the joke of all this scramble for the lifeboats as the ship sinks?
    The cabal that run the party……..well, they want to ‘clean house’ their way.
    Speaking of which…..did someone leave the lux on?

    • What % of voters are swayed by ‘fit for purpose policies’ compared to the % swayed by rhetoric such as the ‘best party to handle the economy’ and the ‘best party to handle the comeback after the coronavirus crisis’?

      A couple of times this week on radio I’ve heard it said that it’s accepted that National is seen as best at handling the economy. That pervasive attitude will be utilised relentlessly until the election.

      Will National electioneering be based on promoting policies for a new 21st Century environment? Or negative and destructive and attacking the likes of Twyford, Clark and Davis who Trotter mentions?

  4. Jacinda has shown a remarkable capacity to lead. The pity is, she is leading in completely the wrong direction, towards economic and environmental meltdown. All done with a smile.

    The good news for Jacinda is that practically every country in the world is doing worse than NZ, with many about to join the US in the basket-case category.

    As for National, well yes, they are willing and able to lead NZ to faster economic, social and environmental collapse, and have a quite a lot of supporters clamoring for those outcomes

      • Covid-19 has distracted us from the ongoing nightmare of runaway climate change. Just because almost nobody is looking at it any more doesn’t mean it has stopped. The economic consequences of environmental upheaval will be massive. The evidence is everywhere and has been for a long time. We need major systemic change, but this government will not go there.

    • Give Ardern some credit. here we are on a site discussing politics and there’s been a bit of a problem in the country lately. The doomsayers had the country down the tubes in about 2 minutes without English and Joyce. The country was going to be dog tucker or dog shit in very short order. Remember that?

      Expect Steven Joyce to be resurrected after he’s dug his way out of some multi billion dollar black so he can sell everyone a trillion dollar hole.

      If we’re going to have action replays maybe while he’s a Minister, Winston can get some info passed to him about some sensitive Govt dept held private information before then election. There must be some opposition member who has information on file that has the same degree of likelihood of being of political embarrassment as was considered to be the case in the Peters’ situation.

  5. “New Zealanders are clearly in no mood for a “dirty little street-fighter” and, if the polls are any indication, resent strongly Bridges’ implication that they are. To be at all competitive with Labour, National needs a radical change of faces. Beating Jacinda’s “Kindness” will require of the Right a credible presentation of “Kindness+”.

    National lost any “Kindness” years mago infact I cant recall since ‘Rob Muldoon’ time as a champion for the ‘the ordinary bloke’ with his “light socialist” tinge was the last leader to emerge in my memory.
    Robert Muldoon | NZHistory, New Zealand history online
    Rob Muldoon was one of our most polarising PMs. To supporters he was the voice of ‘the ordinary bloke’; to critics he was a dictatorial bully. After wartime service, Muldoon became an accountant. He entered Parliament in 1960 and became minister of finance seven years later, acquiring the nickname ‘Piggy

    • The pig was an accountant during his wartime service as well. An NCO in the Quartermaster’s division. All he really had going was a willingness to incite division if he believed he could profit politically. His 1980 hate the caring Kiwis bought Aotearoa closer to civil war than it has been before or since.
      I do owe the pig a debt. One Saturday night in late 1975 I was in the Windsor Castle when the election result came in. I managed to rouse my companions sufficiently from their nods to tell them. “That’s it, I’m out of here, I cannot live in any joint run by a pig. Their bleary eyed reaction was mostly nonplussed, I bolted in Jan ’76 settled in in time to enjoy the summer of punk or wtf, within 18 months every one of them had left Aotearoa too.
      In a nutshell, human incapacity to understand until they are caught in a squirrel grip, in the vice, largely of their own making. If the pig hadn’t made me do it I may never have enjoyed the stimulation of foreign cultures’ alternative ways of skinning the cat.

      • Spot on.
        The Windsor Castle was my home albeit a decade or so after you.
        People are hamsters where the wheel is spinning but the hamster is brain dead.

  6. The Nats do not have the balls to put up a leader who might have a chance of contesting Jacinda Ardern ie Nikki Kaye, because they are so entrenched with these macho males. And I say that as a Labour voter.

      • Muldoon was the toughest and never held back from giving someone a hiding physically as well as verbally.
        I remember him assaulting a protester in 1984 after the guy yelled out “you are finished Muldoon ”
        The cops just stood back and watched.
        A street fighter and bright too boot.

  7. The togetherness is a factor for sure.
    It shone through Bridges tactices and the press headlines sympathetic to it.

  8. Ms Airhead is going to have to really screw up bigtime to lose this one. She may even get to govern free of NZF or the Greens but that is unlikely as the natz will push back during the campaign ably supported by established media (Hiya TVNZ, NZH) no matter which natz pol ends holding the short straw.
    Maybe on his Todd is planning on losing but wants to make his mark now so that when the Natz lose he has a profile to confront Collins. He is definitely a player, but so is Judith who could swing her handful of caucus votes behind him this time to ensure he wins this contest & is deemed irrelevant for the next one, just after the election.

    If the Greens & NZF both get over 5% in the GE there will be considerable interest to see which of the two Jacinda & co select to join them in govt.
    If it is based on ideology, the greens should romp home. Of course there is almost no chance of that, given the ratio of talent free neolibs, to politically astute neolibs in the labour caucus.
    They are far from the sharpest knives in the drawer but they got this far using a keen sense of self preservation.
    In that case the decision will not be ideological, it will be based on who they would least like to face on the cross or opposition benches. That is easy; NZF with or without Winnie will terrify those ersatz lefty no-hopers far more than “Jimmy & the wets” ever could.

    • “Ms Airhead” is a gratuitous insult and totally wrong. Please at least have the balls to debate the issues, with evidence.

  9. I don’t think National should ditch Bridges as leader. It’s going to be very difficult to win the election from here and I don’t think Muller is going to change that.

    Having said that… while it’s easy to admire Jacinda’s performance, Ashley Bloomfield’s and the Ministry of Health and NZ societies “all in it togetherness”. We have done magnificently. But… this is a staggeringly incompetent government… and I’d rather they weren’t in charge of anything to do with the economy over the next two years. I suspect plenty of other people will come to the same conclusion.

    • Seems like plenty of people have come to the conclusion they DO want this staggeringly competent government in charge of the economy judging by the latest polls. National have now got the Pale, Stale, Male feel about them. Not one of them have leadership qualities, to govern a country. They need a complete overhaul and axing Bridges should only be the start.

    • national are yesterdays fush and chup wrapper and Id rather have the competent Adern Govt in charge than anyone from the nazi party.

    • You’re talking about a party that ran a “Ditch the Bitch” campaign against the last female Prime Minister of this country, and has followed up with a demeaning, insulting, hateful diatribe toward our current one.

      The nutty Nats have a signficant proportion of lesser evolved supporters who simply can’t handle being led by a female. It’s a dinosaur – trying to sell an economic and social doctrine that has already died.

  10. I’m not sure how you have come to the conclusion that Bridges is a “street fighter” – if anything he’s been insipid in opposition.

    His biggest failing is that he’s a terrible orator.

    He’s had more than ample ammunition to destroy this government because every second week there has been a calamity or a scandal within the coalition that a better equipped political leader could have used to great effect. That said, both the Speaker and the media have been ‘running interference’ for Jacinda so it’s been hard to get traction.

  11. Well, it is up to Miss Photo Op to blow this election.
    With just one grey hair out of place or one Ad promising too much to the “wrong” people will probably tighten things up?

    The Nats just need to rally their troops as they always do just to turn out. Thats worth 35% on its own.

    Remember to read the ‘fine print’ on with these surveys masquerading as ‘polls’. Understand the difference and you will then understand why the results are what they are.


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