Checking out but not leaving

May 12, 2015

The weekend’s National Party Mainland conference was my last as Southern Regional chair.

It was the end of six years in the position and I chose not to seek re-election for several reasons.

I believe you should step down before you lose the enthusiasm and energy needed for what you’re doing.

The year after an election is the best one in the cycle for a change in chair, allowing the new one plenty of time to come to grips with the job before having to work on candidate selections and the election.

One important measure of success is the quality of your successor and I had one who was ready, willing and able to take over.

It’s been a privilege and pleasure to work with other volunteers, MPs and party staff over the last six years. In that time the party has increased its membership, strengthened its financial base and continued to earn the sort of support in polls few parties attain let alone maintain.

That is due to several factors which include the leadership of the parliamentary wing, the volunteers and staff.

It’s not just party faithful like me who admire our leader and the Prime Minister John Key. To be in a third term in government and still attracting similar levels of support in polls to that when first elected requires someone special at the head of a very good team.

Government and governance are never smooth sailing.

In spite of all that’s been thrown at them, the PM and his team have concentrated on what matters to voters – the economy,  education, health and law and order. They also continue to respect and value the voluntary wing.

I’ve been involved in the party for around three decades and have never known such cohesion between and performance by MPs, staff and volunteers.

Judy Kirk was president when I became regional chair. Her successor Peter Goodfellow has built on the foundation she laid.

I have had all the support and communication from the board I could have wished for. On the few occasions I had concerns I needed to talk to Peter, or other board members about, I was taken seriously and got action.

The strong financial position the party is  in is due to the work of the president, the board and strong membership.

One of the reasons membership has grown is the encouragement and support volunteers have had from the board and the service centre.

General manager Greg Hamilton changed the name of headquarters to the service centre and it wasn’t just window dressing. He and his staff provide amazing service to activists and work very hard to ensure members get value for their loyalty.

The importance of that can’t be overstated.

National is, sadly for democracy, the only party left in New Zealand that has a broad based membership of tens of thousands.

Leading those in the south has provided a few challenges, meant a lot of work but also been very rewarding.

I stepped down and have been succeeded by a woman who has the passion, personality and skills to do all that’s required and more.

I’m looking forward to working with her. My two immediate predecessors were women who provided good role models not only for the position but also for continuing to be involved after retiring from it.

Besides, the party is a bit like the Hotel California. I’ve checked out of the office but I won’t be leaving the building.

We’ve got an election to win in 2017 and earning the votes required to do that requires hard work and a team to do it.

It’s the party vote that counts

August 13, 2013

Anyone who was involved in the National Party during Judy Kirk’s time as president knows it’s the party vote that counts.

She never lost an opportunity to remind members of that.

That was one of the reasons the party reorganised and began running centralised campaigns. These made it clear to voters that while the party wanted them to tick National twice,  if they were going to give us only one tick it should be the party vote one.

The party didn’t abandon electorates though, with the exception of Epsom and Ohariu where, for strategic reasons, National supporters got the message to split their votes.

The wee parties don’t usually try to win electorate seats.

They don’t even field candidates in most of them and where they do they make it quite clear it’s just the party vote they’re chasing.

Labour has rarely done as well in the provinces, and now it looks like the party won’t even try to regain the seats it’s lost.

In the Listener cover story regaining the love Labour’s lost, Ruth Laugesen writes:

Labour is firmly focused on boosting its party vote, possibly at the expense of the electoral seats.

To win back the Beehive, Labour must win hundreds of square kilometres of territory in the heartland. But as Labour rebuilds its party organisation towards the next election, winning electorates appears to be taking a back seat. . .

Is there anything Labour is doing specifically aimed at winning back electorate seats? There is a long pause. “Winning back seats. It’s always good to have … The electorate seats are important, so there will be seats that we are actually going to be ensuring that there’s a strong two-tick campaign, but it’s a party-vote and a candidate-vote campaign. We may have had some people focusing more on the seat than we would like in the future.”

This is another sign of Labour’s weakened state – too little money, too few members and probably too few credible candidates to fight a true two-tick nationwide campaign.

It is the party vote that counts in forming governments.

But abandoning the provinces means that when the party eventually returns to power, as sadly sooner or later it will, it will have little connection to, or knowledge of, great swathes of the country.

Under a Labour-led government the party vote will count and people outside the cities won’t.

We know they don’t understand farming but it’s still the mainstay of the economy and there’s a lot of other things happening outside the main centres which can’t afford the damage a left-wing urban government could inflict on them.

It will be even worse with a strong Green Party influence as well.

A government without connections to and an understanding of the provinces and their needs and concerns isn’t one which will be governing for the good of the country in both senses of the word.


Spot the irony – in today’s ODT Labour leader David Shearer is quoted:

There was no doubt the regions had been neglected in favour of the country’s major cities, he said. . .

He’s wrong that the regions have been neglected by the government but it looks like that is what his party is going to be doing in next year’s election campaign.

The size of the problem

December 3, 2011

John Armstrong illustrates the size of Labour’s problems:

While National was promising a brighter future, Labour was  offering a better past. But no-one lives there any more. Labour had lost touch with middle New Zealand. . .

Labour’s overall vote shrank by 15% at the 2008 election.  That was not unusual for a party that had been in power for nine years. But Saturday night’s result saw Labour’s vote shrink again, this time by 23% on the 2008 provisional result.   

All up, nearly 300,000 voters deserted Labour between 2005 and 2011 – that amounts to 35% of the party’s 2005 election  night tally.

The reasons for this are many.

John Key’s popularity and increasing support are among them but they are more symptoms than causes.

Labour had some really silly policies – GST off fruit and vegetables and not-working for families.

Even David Cunliffe admits that was stupid:

“People must always be able to earn more in work than welfare . . . “

Labour spent most of the election campaign attacking John Key and misrepresenting National’s mixed-ownership model for state assets policy as asset sales.

Phil Goff’s ratings improved as people saw more of them but the party went backwards.

After National’s disastrous defeat in the 2002 election the leader Bill English and president Judy Kirk with Steven Joyce’s assistance undertook a complete review of the party. A special constitutional conference re-wrote the rule book and provided the foundation for rebuilding the party.

Labour will have to do the same. Armstrong says:

The Labour Party can dither no longer. Some of its most sacred cows are in need of      slaughtering.   

The magnitude of last Saturday’s crushing defeat dictates that whichever David – Cunliffe or Shearer – emerges triumphant from the leadership tussle, his first action should be to initiate a rigorous, thorough and preferably independent top-to-bottom review of the party’s structure and practices.   

Nothing should be exempt from scrutiny. Not even that most delicate of subjects – the role of the party’s trade union affiliates.

Failure to do so won’t just make it difficult if not impossible to win the next election, it will gift the Green Party the opportunity to become the major party on the left.

Leading Act where?

July 12, 2011

Don Brash’s expectation that his leadership would enable Act to get 20% support was always

The best the party’s done was 7.1% in 2002 when National was at its nadir. To get even that
when National is polling so strongly was never realistic but he, and the party, will be very disappointed that the polls aren’t showing any noticeable surge in support.

When challenging for Act’s leadership, Brash said he’d managed to make a real difference to National as leader, taking it very close to winning the 2005 election.

But Brash’s leadership wasn’t the only factor in that result.

Part of the credit for that was the change in National’s constitution brought about by then leader Bill English, president Judy Kirk and general manager Steven Joyce. That revolutionised the party organisation and for the first time since MMP was introduced, National ran a campaign for the party vote.

The party also had a solid foundation of members on which to build and a functioning volunteer structure in every electorate. They provided a nation-wide network of people ready to back up the new leadership.

Act had a much shakier foundation. Its membership probably wasn’t much above the 500 minimum needed for registration when Brash took over.

Act’s finances might have improved with the change of leadership but while parties need money for campaigns, there’s a lot more to winning votes than that.

They need to be united, well organised and have a message which is based on clear principles
and philosophy.

Brash says he’s offering the same prescription he offered in 2005. But while his message
hasn’t changed, other things have.

Back then he was offering the prospect of an alternative government. This time his party will be a minor coalition party in government, sitting on the cross benches or in opposition. Minor parties get some policy concessions, those on the cross benches or in opposition might be able to block legislation but rarely get much of their own policy enacted.

In 2005 Brash was up against a government coming to the end of its second term whose popularity was waning. This time National is in its first term and still getting unprecedented support in the polls.

In 2005, voters were open to radical change, this year they are showing no appetite for
that at all.

Brash did lead National close to victory in 2005 but he didn’t do it by himself. He had a
major party with a united caucus and strong volunteer base behind him.

Now he’s leading a wee party with a divided caucus and few volunteers and the polls
reflect that.

Death of a good man

April 6, 2011

Roger Kirk, husband of former national party president Judy Kirk, died this morning in a hunting accident:

A preliminary investigation has found Roger Kirk, 64, accidentally shot himself some time before 11am at his rural property on the outskirts of the town.

His body was found by a neighbour in a block of pine trees on the property, police said.

Taupo CIB Detective Senior Sergeant Todd Pearce said Mr Kirk may have shot himself during a fall.

Judy always paid tribute to the support Roger gave her during her speeches to National Party conferences and it wasn’t empty praise.

He was a gem – intelligent, hard working, warm, witty, and a successful businessman.

His early death is a tragedy for his family, friends and the wider community to which he contributed so much.

A red faced blue

August 6, 2009

Since kiwiblog: won’t even mention how she was alseep in her room when they awarded her the prize 🙂 I thought I’d give my side of the story:

Travelling for more than 36 hours is not the best preparation for a conference.

Our journey back from Europe started on a train from Verona on Thursday morning and finished with a flight which arrived in Christchurch at 9am on Saturday, half an hour ahead of schedule.

That gave us time to get a taxi to the hotel, shower, change clothes and sneak into the back of the National Party’s annual conference just a few minutes after it opened at 10am.

By lunchtime the travel and time difference were catching up on us. We wanted to listen to Bill English, the first speaker for the afternoon, but when that speech finished my farmer retired for a siesta and I followed a few minutes later.

In the normal course of events no-one would have noticed but shortly after I left  party president Judy Kirk announced the presentation of the Sir George Chapman Cup for service to the party.

Sir George, a former party president,  walked on to the stage while Judy outlined the recipient’s contribution to National in such a way that the identity of winner wasn’t obvious until very near the end of what she was saying.

Because we’d arrived late we’d been at the back of the hall, not with the with rest of the electorate. When the friends I’d been sitting with realised the winner was going to me, one sneaked up to let my MP, Jacqui Dean, know I wasn’t there. She accepted the cup on my behalf and in doing so explained why I needed a siesta .

On Sunday morning,  Judy started proceedings by announcing that since I was now awake, Sir George would do the presentation again. Which he did with great charm.

I’ve listened in admiration in past years as the contributions of  the winners were read out, never thinking that one day the cup might go to me and I am still somewhat overawed that it has.

Recognition of service and commitment in this way usually comes when someone retires. Doing it while the recipient is still actively involved is a very clever ploy because now I’ll have to ensure I justify the honour that’s been bestowed on me.

Tribute to a president

August 2, 2009

When Judy Kirk became president of the National Party in 2002 she said she’d be a backroom one.

She succeeded in that and much more.

She took over when the party was at its lowest ebb with only 27 MPs, low and declining membership and finances which reflected that. She leaves it with more than twice that number of MPs, about three times the number of members and on a sound financial footing.

With then leader Bill English and now MP Steven Joyce, Judy instituted a comprehensive revision of the party’s rules which strengthened it and enabled it to deal with MMP; she improved relationships between the parliamentary and volunteer arms of the party; instituted the Candidates’ Club to prepare prospective MPs; she helped reinvigorate caucus with the selection of new candidates, including current leader John Key, increased membership, got the party’s finances sorted and she ensured everyone in the party knew it is the party vote which counts.

One of her real strengths was her recognition and appreciation of volunteers. She never missed an opportunity to acknowledge, thank and encourage members. She was particularly supportive of electorate chairs and instituted an annual gathering for them to help them in their role and enable them to learn from each other.

She always said, “ring me anytime” and she meant it.

Last night the party officially thanked Judy for her contribution as president with sincere and moving tributes. This morning the board will elect her replacement. Whoever it is has a very good role model to follow.

Judy’s final speech as president is here.

The NZ Herald profiles her here.

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