Free political advice: National Party

by Lord Sutch

UNDP Ms. Helen Clark meeting with New Zealand  Prime Minister John KeyThis is the second entry in my free-political-advice series. Today we look at the incumbents, the National Party. Or as I call them “John Key and the suits”.

Leadership: Well you’ve got this one right sewn up. I don’t think in all my years I’ve seen as naturally an instinctive politician as John Key. The man is an animal. Reow. Frankly, without him you’d be rooted. The news out today is that he is New Zealand’s most trusted and liked politician. Staggering. Given his blunders over the past 18 months with GCSB brain-fades, cronies being given plum Government roles and his failure to have any benchmarks for integrity in his staff (“Banks! You’ve probably done something illegal but I’ll close my eyes and not read the police report!”….”Dunne! I can’t prove you’ve done anything wrong but you’re gone.”), it’s amazing he’s polling so high. But as I mentioned in my advice to Labour column, Key is a Rorschach test. People project on to him whatever they want him to be. So he’s business savvy, and he’s a likeable everyman, and he’s just that nice Mr Key. It’s clear he runs the party like a chairman runs his board, and that’s working well for you. Don’t change.

Caucus: This is where National starts to look a little shaky. There are members of the caucus who are hugely talented – I’m thinking Bill English, Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee here – and there are members who are quite good – Paula Bennett has done ok – but then there is some serious dross, and over-hyped dross at that (Steven Joyce I’m looking at you). You’ve done excellently in kicking out some dead wood (and some less dead, but perhaps use it a bit-too-much wood). There’s also considerable in-fighting happening behind the scenes. And if and when Key goes it’s going to be all-out civil war between Collins and Joyce for the leadership (here’s my tip, if you’re in opposition put Collins in, she’ll excite the base and be fantastic). From word round the street, Joyce has alienated the lower ranking members while Collins hasn’t. But then there are some dark horse MPs who may come through the middle, Simon Bridges? Anyway, you’re a bit light on grunts, the folks who do the heavy lifting. English will go down as one of our best finance ministers but the rest of you chumps need to start pulling your weight.

Strategy: This is your election to lose. I’ll be impressed if you manage to cock it up. Basically, just keep doing what you’ve been doing. Steady-as-she goes change, don’t push too hard at the fringes and keep talking about how good the economy is forecast to go. You’ll have to mix it in with some anecdotal stories about people who are now getting a better deal but basically you can rely on figures. Besides, your opposition is probably too weak to mount a serious challenge at the moment. Don’t attack, Labour keeps attacking it’s backfiring massively. In fact your strongest tactic would be to ignore the opposition and just talk about how good you’ve made it and what you’ll do with your next term.

Outlook: Quite strong. I’d have you at about 75-25 likelihood of winning. I think the only thing that will stop you is if you don’t have any coalition partners. But I’ve been impressed with the way in which you’ve conducted yourself in that space. By having a revitalised ACT, a possible newcomer in the Conservatives and the omni-present Dunne you’ve got yourself some options.

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Gwynn February 19, 2014 - 10:31 am

What fascinates me about the Key/English combination is that it’s very similar to the Clark/Cullen combo that Labour used successfully from 1999 to 2008. Both leaders have a teflon like quality that seems to prevent them from being tarred by the actions of those under them, while both finance/deputies have proven to be astute and sensible in nearly everything they’ve done.

What I suspect will play out for Key/English will be much the same as for Clark/Cullen. They’ll win this year, but come the next election, they’ll be battling against a general feeling of “Things are good, but we still think it’s time for a change in the deckchairs.”

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