Leader must be gracious, caucus must be united

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.

6 Responses to Leader must be gracious, caucus must be united

  1. Andrei says:

    No Ele – it is unforgiveable that the news is being dominated by this

    I’m not a National Party sychophant but I want them to be focussed on holding the curent bunch of incompetant nincompoops to account not engaged in an intercine battle for personal agrandizement

    I am utterly appalled at the people behind this challenge and it has almost certainly cost National my vote come September

    Where are the adults?


  2. homepaddock says:

    ‘I want them to be focussed on holding the curent bunch of incompetant nincompoops to account not engaged in an intercine battle for personal agrandizement’ – that’s what I’m saying too and that’s why the leader needs to be gracious and caucus to be united.


  3. Andrei says:

    Rember Don Brash did this to Bill English and that was not a time of crisis

    And the result was National ended up in oppositio for 9 years and deservedly so


  4. adamsmith1922 says:

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    Sensible comments, but there is it seems a media claque dedicated to denigrating Bridges, plus their fawning over the idiots running the Ardern regime eg Twyford,Clark,Davis, and the ideologues like Ardern, Little, Hipkins.


  5. Teletext says:

    Andrei, Yes Don Brash did roll Bill English and nearly won the next election (2005) but for the gnome of St Mary’s Bay, and then he got rolled and they did win the 2008 election so the rolling of Bill did not lead to 9 years even though it took the country that long to realise they needed a new team running the place. At least Bill stayed on and eventually and for too short a time was rewarded with the top prize. He showed what Ele is talking about, loyalty to the party and cause. I honestly believe that if he had been in charge over this time, we would be in a much better place with a good future, not the one that has mortgaged our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren’s future.

    There is always internecine warfare in political parties unless they have a strong leader with very good whips to keep control of the plebs. There is always someone who thinks they could do a better job and stirring things up in the background. The trick is to have your ears to the ground and as soon as this person sticks their head up, chop it off. This isn’t only in politics, it is in most societies where there is an elected executive. There is always someone who thinks they are better than those in control. It’s human nature.

    Whoever, wins today will only have the job for a short time as their candidate for Botany seems to be set for a very quick rise to the top job, regardless of the outcome of the election.


  6. Andrei says:

    Sure Teletext most politician are not short on ego – but thre is a time and place to make your run.

    And at this point in history with a major crisis underway and the incumbants making a dogs breakfast of it undermining the leadership of the opposition serves to distract from the issues of impotance at this time.

    The people who used the press gallery to advance their own agendas do so to the detriment of the New Zealand people and rather than being concilaitory I believe exemplary punishment is in order – the old English punishment of being hung, drawn and quartered has much to recommend but alas we are far more civilized these days


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