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PoliticsFebruary 20, 2018

Five go to Wellington: the National battle boat fills up

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Mark Mitchell and Steven Joyce have added their names to the ballot for the contest to succeed Bill English as party leader. With a week till MPs make their decision, here are five observations on the race.


The newbies

What looked like a three-horse race featuring Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins has swollen to five.

First came Mark Mitchell, who put his name forward on the beach yesterday at Orewa, accompanied by a reality television star called Zac, to a chorus of who? A former National defence minister, Mitchell is one of a group of rising National MPs sometimes referred to as the Four Amigos (although another of the amigo quartet, Chris Bishop, has endorsed Adams already, so that’s a puzzle). He’d be a very high risk candidate, and at 49 not exactly a new-generation standard bearer, so it looks mostly like a bid for a profile boost. But stranger things have happened.

Mitchell has previously had links to bloglord Cameron Slater and his strategist svengali Simon Lusk, though he said yesterday they’re not working together any longer. He does, though, have Clark Hennessy on his leadership campaign, which doesn’t suggest he’s prioritising chumming up with Winston Peters. The very mention of the name Hennessy, who rejects Peters’ claims he was involved in leaking the NZ First’s pension details before the last election, is said to send the deputy PM into a rage.

Steven Joyce joined the contest this morning in relatively understated fashion via radio interviews. The former finance minister’s candidacy is fascinating, representing more than any other continuity with the English and Key leaderships. The subtext to the National caucus of the party’s policy and strategy sultan: back me or risk throwing away a decade of polling in the high 40s.

Most importantly, the Joyce declaration invites us all to make lots of very good topical gags. The Spinoff is currently working up, for example, a billboard for Joyce’s new feature film, 11.7-Billion Mile, with its pretty legal soundtrack, “Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity / To seize everything you ever wanted  / One moment / Would you capture it or just let it slip?”



With two or three candidates for the leadership, there was a decent chance that an accommodation would be found before the caucus came to vote. With five in the field, that’s highly unlikely. The possibility of a brokered deal cannot yet be completely ruled out – if, say, Adams and Bridges formed a ticket, they’d look unassailable – but it’s no longer likely.

That doesn’t mean there won’t still be wheeling and dealing and trading of horses. Even a candidate facing ejection in the first or second round of voting has sway, if he or she can assemble any sort of bloc to reassign to another candidate.

The next leader of the National Party will need to secure at least 28 votes from their caucus colleagues, plus their own. It is unlikely, however, that anyone will get more than half of the 56 votes up for grabs on round one. Even if one candidate were to secure, say, 25 votes in the first round, that wouldn’t be enough to win if you’re loathed by the rest of caucus.


Whatever happened to Paula?

Not only has the incumbent deputy leader of the National Party decided against going for the top job, she was reported earlier today to be standing down from the deputy role before the caucus vote. She clarified this afternoon saying that it was simply a matter of the caucus voting afresh on both leader and deputy; she wasn’t “standing down” per se. For someone who was seen as a good chance at next leader, however, it’s been a rough month. With five in the field, and – see deal-making, above – there’s every chance that one of those will shepherd their votes, should they be knocked out, to another candidate in exchange for an endorsement by the new leader for the deputy position.



The Colmar Brunton poll for TVNZ broadcast last night covered a period before English stood down, so we may not yet see any public polling on the National leader race. It was telling, however, that Judith Collins tweeted a link to the poll, which showed Labour at its highest level in 15 years, and Bill English sinking even before he announced his resignation, with the hashtag #MoreOfTheSameNotAnOption.

You’d expect, though, that Judith Collins especially would be keen to see polling, given that her high public profile and name recognition should send her to the top of the pack. Hardly a surprise that her campaigning is, more than any candidate, direct to the public, in the hope that it might filter up to her caucus colleagues.


The criteria

Different MPs will have different priorities. Among them: the ability to rejuvenate the party and appeal to younger voters; the ability to rally a ruthless opposition and put the government to the sword; the ability to pal up with politicians of different stripes with a view to future coalition-making.

Running through all of those considerations, inescapably and of course, will be something more basic: which candidate is most likely to get me a promotion and/or help me hold on to my seat.


The injection of Mitchell and Joyce ballsed up the catchy A-B-C thing, but we have helpfully identified a functional mnemonic:

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