Heather du Plessis-Allan-Soper tells Bill English that his time is up:
Bill English is a safe pair of hands. A Conservative with a Conscience. A good Kiwi Bloke. Reasonable, rational, progressive.
Anyway, that’s the recurring view among supporters of the leader of the National Party.
It’s a lot to lose. Which is why Bill English should quit. Sooner rather than later.
He is actually none of that. Certainly not conservative, more a sopping wet liberal, and he’s certainly not at all reasonable, especially when holding a grudge. HDPA calls him progressive and a conservative? Yeah, nah.
But she is right that he should quit sooner rather than later.
English this week denied reports that he’s planning on quitting before the next election. But I’d wager he won’t be there in 2020. He’s smarter than that.
Every day that he hangs on in the job of National leader is a day that chips away at the solid reputation he’s managed to carve out over nine years as a careful Finance Minister and a safe-as-houses Prime Minister.
English did a remarkable thing coming back from that horrible 2002 election defeat. No one should underestimate the courage it would’ve taken to run in last year’s election. No one should underestimate the work it took to win an impressive 44 per cent of voters.
Yet he still lost, for a second time. Once can be forgiven. If he’d won he’d be a hero, but he didn’t, so go he must.
It’s equally remarkable that those voters are sticking by him. They’re refusing to budge despite all the charm, sweet talking and impressiveness of the new Labour Government. That 44 per cent has gone nowhere. In this week’s Newshub-Reid research poll, that 44 per cent declared they were standing by their man.
They aren’t sticking by him. They are sticking by National. They are sticking with National despite Bill. They are sticking because TINA (There Is No Alternative).
But it won’t last. Nothing lasts forever. At some point, National supporters may get over their anger at the sense their election victory was stolen from them. They may come to accept a new Government. They may even like Jacinda Ardern and go goey over her greatest political weapon: baby Gayford. The chances of English holding 44 per cent of voters through to the next election are slim.
For English, it’s better to leave when those voters still love him. It’s better to go out while it still looks like it’s his choice. Because, when the polls dip, the hungry and ambitious younger MPs — who this week declared their undying support for English — will be the first to knife him. They’re ambitious. They see their chances slipping away with time. They probably tell themselves at night that they can take English’s 44 per cent and claim the victory in 2020.
Plus, Bill can’t deliver on the promises like he once could, and certainly can’t deliver on the threats. The last time he threatened and blustered he was opposition leader and he never did get rid of Maurice Williamson.
Plus, every day that English hangs around is a day where the veneer of being a Conservative with a Conscience slowly rubs off. It started during the election campaign. There was the bootcamps for young offenders policy. Then this week the whole caucus voted against Green MP Chloe Swarbrick’s liberal marijuana bill. The whole caucus. Even those like Chris Bishop who publicly said that they would support it. Were those MPs guided towards changing a conscience vote? Did that happen under the apparently progressive Bill English’s watch? And then the final clanger this past week. A bill, promoted by new MP Andrew Falloon, that aims to lock away recidivist offenders for longer. This, when research tells us prisons fix nothing. This under the watch of the man who once described prisons as “a moral and fiscal failure”.
Those aren’t clangers deary… those are playing to the base, especially Falloon’s bill, which is just plain sensible.
There are rumours that the business world wants English. Rumours of job offers on boards. That would surely be a happier place than the frustration and insecurity of Opposition.
Make no mistake though, National is likely in for a tough time when English does pull the pin. The party’s support will probably drop. Few other National MPs convey the same steadiness and old-slipper comfort that English does. Ambition and greed could take over. It could be an ugly sight as MPs clamour to fill his spot and tear down any replacement who doesn’t deliver.
But, if the party does fall to bits when he quits, that won’t be a bad thing for English personally. It’ll just prove he was all the things his supporters think he is. At least, what they think at the moment.
I don’t think the party will fall apart, especially if they get an actual conservative for a leader, and one who isn’t afraid to wallop little Cindy around the ears. The Conservative party is dead, and NZ First is wavering. Those votes have to go somewhere and it won’t be to Labour or the Greens.
Going into the next election with someone who entered parliament when Jim Bolger became Prime Minister isn’t really a forward-looking plan. Thirty years supping at the trough is too long.
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