If Simon Bridges wins today’s leadership challenge he must be gracious.
Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye are both suited to their respective roles as spokespeople for agriculture and education.
Demoting them would be understandable. But leaving them their would demonstrate statesmanship and mean no valuable time would be wasted as their replacements came up to speed with new portfolios.
If the challenge succeeds the new leader must also be gracious.
Opposition leader is never an easy job and the last couple of years have been particularly difficult.
Circumstances have given the Prime Minister opportunities to shine which has left Simon in the shade. On top of this he’s faced sabotage from within and almost unrelenting negative media exposure.
There is no worse example of that then the totally unprofessional and vindictive word cloud which featured in the news a few days (and to which I’m not going to link). That crossed the line from political commentary to personal abuse, even bullying.
But time and time again he’s defied predictions of his political death and should he not do a Lazarus today, he deserves respect for tenacity and focus.
Should he make it one more time he deserves more than respect, he deserves loyalty and unity from his caucus, for his sake and the party’s.
Neither Simon nor Todd is going to out-popular the Prime Minister in the short term, but as Liam Hehir writes, personal unpopularity can be overcome by a policy platform that resonates, and a sound strategy for getting it out there.
There is, however, a big problem. Inter-party divisions do not generally affect the voting intentions of party stalwarts. There is evidence that voters who aren’t partisans, however, will use internal disagreement as a shorthand for evaluating a party’s policy chops.
So, the path forward is clear. The first thing that must happen is settlement of the leadership question. The next thing is an end to public dissension.
That means the winner is going to have to strike a careful balance of utu and clemency. Not enough of the former, and he (or she) will have no chance of being anything other than a lame duck. Not enough of the latter and the risk is that disagreements will be intensified.
Any time National is talking about anything other than the economy it will be bleeding votes to Labour. If it drags on much longer, it will also start bleeding votes to NZ First. It’s the second of those which could turn a tough election into a 2002-level bloodbath.
MPs who leak and gossip with hostile media should be called to account for risking the jobs of their compadres. Talented MPs should be brought into the fold even if they supported the unsuccessful candidate. Those who would rather reign in hell should be encouraged to explore other options.
The shenanigans of late are a slap in the face to every unpaid volunteer who has ever stuffed mailboxes or sat through boring committee meetings or parted with their hard-earned cash to support the party’s activities.
Those people may not abandon the party, but its parliamentary section should not be so careless about letting them down.
I was an electorate chair when National lost the 2001 election so badly. The following year I was stuffing hundreds of envelopes asking members to pay their subs when the radio news informed me someone was publicly undermining the leader.
I fired off an email to the underminer which started with “bloody hell” and went on to say very, very clearly, how members felt about disunity.
Leaders and MPs come and go, some members do too but the base stays and if there’s one thing that upsets those who remain loyal to the party through good times and bad, it’s MPs who don’t.
New Zealand is facing dire economic times. Job losses already number in the thousands and the social consequences will soon be apparent.
The country needs an opposition focused on holding the government to account.
It needs an opposition able to show it has a plan for a better way to deal with the crisis than the current one which is focused on the quantity of its spend rather than the quality.
And it needs an opposition that shows it has the people to implement the plan who are united and working with their leader
If there’s anyone in National’s caucus who isn’t prepared to get behind whoever wins the leadership vote today s/he should get out and let those who are get on with what must be done for the sake of the party, and the country.