National 2002 vs Labour 2014

A reader asks:

It would be helpful to hear an explanation as to why the Labour situation is so different from the National Bill English situation. Is it that National, even though getting such a low result in that election, still had numerous highly qualified up and coming talent? That the election was a burn off allowing greater growth rather than in this case which seems to be more of a spilling of weed killer which just keeps spreading? A compare and contrast exposition would be great (if it hasn’t already been done).

Regular readers will know that I was calling this election months ago as a redux of 2002.

What were the indicators that allowed me to make that prediction?

Well there were numerous, many of them anecdotal, but having experienced 2002 I was able to draw inference from those anecdotal items.

Dis-satisfaction with leadership, moribund poll ratings, no cut through on policy even when it was good, an abundance of policy papers, poor team work, then as the election campaign got going the slow slide in poll ratings leading to the sudden crash at the end.

It was almost identical.

BillEnglish’s Wikipedia page has a sanitised but honest appraisal of what went on between 2001 and 2003,

In October 2001, dissatisfaction with party leader Jenny Shipley had failed to abate, and English secured the backing of a majority of National Party MPs. English replaced Shipley as head of the National Party and thus as Leader of the Opposition.

However, English failed to improve the party’s performance. In the 2002 elections, National suffered its worst electoral defeat ever, gaining barely more than twenty percent of the vote. Both party insiders and the general public were split as to how much to blame English for this loss, but most of the party believed that English would be able to rebuild National’s support.

By late 2003, however, National’s performance in opinion polls remained poor. The party had briefly increased its popularity in the year following the election, but by October its support had fallen to levels only slightly better than what it achieved in the last ballot. English also appeared in a boxing match for a charity against entertainer Ted Clarke. This “stunt” did not boost his polling or that of the National party either, with suggestions that it devalued his image as a serious politician. Don Brash, former governor of the Reserve Bank and a relative newcomer to politics, began to build up support to replace English. On 28 October, Brash gained sufficient backing in Caucus to replace English as leader

Where this gets interesting though is the aftermath and that is what the commenter is asking about.  

We can’t honestly know where Labour will end up but indicators are pointing at further disaster.

After 2002 National implemented a full organisational review which saw dramatic changes to the way the President and board were selected. It was felt that the acrimonious presidency battles of the preceding few years hindered the organisation. Bill English stayed on as leader for another year and after polls failed to record any improvement Don Brash rolled him. The polling fortunes of National immediately improved and significantly improved after the infamous Orewa speech just few months later in January 2004. Brash nearly won the 2005 election.

National also briefly flirted with the idea of the leader being elected by the membership but this was quickly discarded as unworkable.

Labour bizarrely thinks this is a good idea.

They call it democratising the leadership. I call it electoral suicide. Handing the leadership of the parliamentary wing to the nutters and activists of the rump of the Labour party was always doomed to failure and it will be doomed to failure again.

To now run a leadership spill and ballot without analysing what went wrong in the election is farcical int he extreme. To contemplate doing that and possibly re-selecting David Cunliffe is bizarre.

It is early days yet to accurately compare the two parties and the aftermath of a resounding electoral defeat.

One thing I can say though is that in 2002 there was an abiding belief inside the party that the voters were mistaken in 1999 in tossing National aside, the arrogance of such thinking was apparent right up to and including the election. Those notions were disabused in a brutal fashion by the party and the arrogance replaced with moving the party more to the centre. National adopted a two term strategy, but almost pulled it off in 2005. They eventually did win in 2008 by aligning the party to voters and not the other way around.

All indicators from the vocal activists and the Labour politicians suggests that they are still of the belief that the voters were wrong, and worse stupid, for continuing to be hoodwinked by that shyster John Key. If only the voters would open their eyes they would see that electoral happiness is just a vote for labour away.

Until Labour grows up, loses the haughtiness and arrogance they will continue to slide in the polls. You’d think 3 drubbings in a row would have solved this problem, but no.

It is Labour now who are faced with a two term strategy…unfortunately they are already two terms down and no further ahead.

Where National was able to refresh and continues to refresh its caucus, labour is still stuck with a shallow talent pool, and even then that talent is actually bereft of real talent. There are still old tuskers from the Clark era sitting in safe seats and ordinary and frankly awful candidates like Sue Moroney taking up prime list positions. Labour might think they have a two term strategy to regain the treasury benches but it is more like a three term strategy.

Even then the strategy is predicated on the party not tearing itself apart in the upcoming leadership ballots.


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