Hooton on the leadership challenge

Matthew Hooton wrote at NBR about the National party leadership challenge:

Before they choose from Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins, National MPs may want to ask themselves some more fundamental questions.

It’s undoubtedly important which of the candidates has the best nose for the populist issues and potential scandals necessary to more quickly erode public trust in the Labour-NZ First regime. It’s far from trivial which candidate can hold their own with Jacinda Ardern on the cover of Women’s Day, who can be funnier on Seven Sharp, The Project and 7 Days, and who’s best to clown around with Rog, Casey and Mulls on Rock FM. MPs would also be wise to take into account what the focus groups say about whose voice is most tolerable over the breakfast cereal and whose face on the TV news. But before they tick A, B or C, National MPs may also have the self-respect to ask themselves what they are doing in Parliament in the first place.  

Good questions. Some may appear trivial, but that is how John Key was able to remain so popular.

Does the National Party exist merely to preside over Labour Party policies roughly every second decade? Or does it exist to promote its own ideas – whether from the left like Think Big, or the right like the 1990s economic reforms, or from somewhere in between like the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process?

Do National Party MPs, members, supporters and donors want the next National government to be in the mould of the indisputably electorally successful Holyoake and Key projects? Or would they prefer, when it is finally kicked out sometime in the 2030s, that it is at least marked by something permanent, whether Muldoon’s Clyde Dam or the Bolger government’s basic economic framework?

Do they actually understand what National’s principles are? Sure, the candidates mouth platitudes, but it has been some time since a leader espoused National’s core values – none of which include “progressivism”.

Mr English deserves credit for not panicking during the global financial crisis or after the Canterbury earthquakes but that achievement consisted of little more than letting the automatic fiscal stabilisers to do their work. Allowing the fiscal deficit to touch 9% of GDP – a third higher again than even under Muldoon at his most deranged – was the right thing to do under the circumstances but an odd thing to cite as justification for a life’s work.

To be fair, it was Mr English’s bad luck to have to share power for nine years with Mr Key and Steven Joyce, neither of whom had any interest in a legacy beyond that day’s 6pm news. To Mr English’s credit, in the 10 months he was prime minister, the National-led government finally showed signs of being interested in matters beyond the self-aggrandisement of the leader and his unelected sidekick.

That’s true too. Shame about English’s sidekick though.

National MPs rightly point out MMP makes it impossible for a future National government to be as politically reckless as the Muldoon, Lange or Bolger regimes – but committing to careful political management is not the same as resolving to be irresolute. Other National MPs genuinely believe that merely keeping Labour out of office while administering their policies is enough.Better that a National minister signs off a further expansion of the welfare state than one with a red rosette.

That’s fine if that’s all National MPs want from their time in politics. But most normal human beings seek a little more self-respect.

That was my problem with the Key/English government. They failed to use their political capital to do anything of substance. The status quo is not an option. Something needs to change.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.