Struggling To Find A Leader

Desperately Seeking National

By Roger Childs

The three frontrunners (Credit RNZ)

Even the most diehard Tory supporter would be dismayed at the field lining up to replace Bill English as leader. Judith Collins has a lot of baggage; Simon Bridges is not easy to listen to; and Amy Adams had a flawed run as Justice Minister.

There is nobody to set the pulses racing like Rob Muldoon, John Key or David Lange. To find a leader to match the star quality and charisma of Jacinda Ardern looks very difficult.

In the background behind the three frontrunners are the tired old faces of Stephen Joyce, Paula Bennett, Ann Tolley and Nick Smith.

No right wing Messiah there.

A woman to match a woman?

Has had a makeover but too much baggage?

This might be the thinking in the National caucus, but it is difficult to sustain the argument. Many people say that Judith Collins is “tough”, however this description is rather meaningless. She has a reputation for getting things done, but there are concerns about her past record.

She made a mess of the David Bain compensation case when she rejected the advice of a distinguished Canadian jurist and then paid a compliant Auckland lawyer to give her the opinion she wanted. Then as Energy Minister she failed to sort out petrol price differentials around the country.

She also has big questions to answer over her favouritism to friends (notably Cameron Slater), in providing material under the Official Information Act when she was Justice Minister in the Key government. There were also other issues raised in Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics.

Then there is the reality that her husband is a big player in Orevida, one of the Chinese companies making a fortune from bottling New Zealand water.

If selected she could be a very divisive leader and it is no big surprise that she is already sparring with Amy Adams over breaching caucus rules.

Amy Adams or Nikki Kaye?

Amy Adams: confident but lacking charisma?

Adams’ record as a cabinet minister is not great. As Justice Minister she did authorise compensating the wrongly convicted Teina Pora, but then quibbled over making the payout inflation-adjusted.

Then in recent times she was Housing Minister and had responsibility of Social Housing. Not a lot happened on her short watch and in fact she oversaw a lot of selling off of social dwellings.

Nikki Kaye: has the right mix?

Nikki Kaye hasn’t thrown her fascinator into the ring, but would probably be the best bet if the Nats wanted a foil for Jacinda. Coincidently both ladies have battled it out for the Auckland Central seat in the past.

Kaye has been an effective cabinet minister and firmly believes that throwing rocks at Labour will get the party nowhere.

She has supported many good causes in the past such as building the national cycleway and bringing the Gay Pride Parade back to Auckland. Kaye has a social conscience, but remains an economic conservative in line with National’s tradition stance.

If the uninspiring three frontrunners knock themselves out, might Nikki Kaye make a late run?

She does have the potential to build a style that might match the incumbent prime minister.

What of the men?

That haunted look!

Simon Bridges lacks personal appeal and charisma. He often sounds as if he has a golf ball in his mouth or hasn’t quite swallowed his lunch. Sometimes he has a scared, even haunted look, like a feral cat caught in the headlights.

His record as a cabinet minister – Transport, Economic Development and Communications – was average. However, he does have youth on his side. He’s also, apparently, working on his communications skills.

The less well known Mark Mitchell, has very good credentials with a distinguished record in the Police and as a hostage negotiator overseas. However his cabinet experience was limited to a twelve month period.

Mark Mitchell: on the way up?

Nevertheless he is respected on both sides of the House, is good mates with Winston and has  impressive media skills. He hasn’t made his wishes known, but might be a useful caretaker leader.

Then there is “Mr Fix-it”: Stephen Joyce. He is an old campaigner and was crucial in running John Key’s successful election campaigns. With a communication background he is very comfortable with the media, but he has made some blunders in his time, most recently with his utterly unsubstantiated “fiscal hole” claim about Labour’s spending plans last October.

The new leader will be a loser?

Whoever they select, the Nats face a confident Labour-led coalition with a leader of star quality. Many commentators say that National is likely to lose in 2020 and the leadership would then go down the tubes.

However, other politicians in the past have lost elections, hung on to their party leadership and come through to become prime minister.

It will be interesting to see how things play out. The three with hats in the ring are not very appealing and some of the others may come out to play if things get deadlocked.

Here’s a punt from KIN: Mark Mitchell as leader and Nikki Kate as deputy.