Matthew Hooton: Who dares, wins

Matthew  Hooton discusses the machinations inside the National party to replace Bill English and his cronies:

It will take extraordinary political courage to topple Mr English and achieve wider generational change in the party.

The two-time election loser remains highly regarded among much of the party’s deeply conservative membership, who will doom the career of anyone who wields the knife but fails to take the kill first time. Thus, the strong denials by chief suspect Simon Bridges that he had anything to do with this week’s briefings against Mr English.

However, even if the blade runs true, all the contenders know the history that one-term governments are rare, with just two since the Great Depression. It’s odds-on that whoever replaces Mr English this term will end up more a Phil Goff or David Cunliffe in the history books than a Jacinda Ardern.

Those most commonly spoken about as future leaders – Mr Bridges, Amy Adams, Nikki Kaye and Todd Muller – may calculate it is best to hold back, seeing 2023 or 2026 as their best shot to succeed not Mr English but Ms Ardern.

If so, they may have the calculation but not the bravery necessary to succeed in the very top job.

Amy Adams and Nikki Kaye were walking around parliament looking like the cats that licked the cream last week. They were acting as smug as Bill English.

Meanwhile Simon Bridges realises that his team have been rather loose with their lips and landed him in a spot of bother. That was why he was busily walking back his leadership aspirations to anyone who would listen, and unfortunately for him that included some of his discussions in ‘Sloppers’ that were overheard by WOBH operatives.

In contrast, there is another who fancies herself as having both qualities of leadership. Judith Collins’ position in the caucus is hopeless. She is too right-wing on everything from law and order to economic policy while also being accused of rank populism over issues like petrol prices. She has an uncaring image, almost as if she had cancelled free milk in schools.

But like every ambitious right-wing woman of her generation, Ms Collins knows full well the story of the British Conservative Party in 1975, when an utterly improbable right-wing candidate put her name forward against two-time loser Edward Heath.

Margaret Thatcher was a lower-middle-class grocer’s daughter, had previously said no woman would be Conservative Party leader in her lifetime and had in fact cancelled free milk in schools as education minister.

Ultimately, however, none of the Tory toffs who despised Mrs Thatcher had the courage to challenge Mr Heath themselves, allowing the Iron Lady to secure the leadership, win three elections, transform her nation and work with Ronald Reagan to destroy socialism in Eastern Europe. The wet Tory grandees had only themselves to blame for creating the only conceivable circumstances in which Mrs Thatcher could have prevailed.

Ms Collins dreams of a similar story for herself. If the likes of Mr Bridges, Ms Adams, Ms Kaye and Mr Muller all lack the bottle to step forward over the next 18 months, there’s an outside chance her dream could become reality.

Todd Muller definitely lacks bottle. He put his name in the hat in several selections and bottled out well before any vote was ever taken until he found a sure thing in replacing Tony Ryall. That is just about as cowardly as Steve Joyce who won’t put his name forward for any selection in case he loses. When he tells his best mates they aren’t allowed to show up for a Christmas party because it might be embarrassing…well, you know that he can’t be relied upon at all. Word is Simon Bridges has discovered that no amount of elocution lessons will change the way he squeaks speaks. Amy Adams is wondering how a certain blogger in Auckland knows about her secrets and being closely linked to some of the Dirty Politics aftermaths and internecine knifings won’t help her either.. Nikki Kaye’s election strategy to beat Jacinda Ardern, not turning up to debates, won’t work as leader of the opposition.

All this talk is debilitating to English’s leadership and now it has started it won’t stop. English also faces a dilemma. He is a big one for retribution for any perceived slight. He’s had it in for my old man for nearly two decades because Dad once told him he looked like a hayseed in the way he dressed attending a meeting with bankers, law firm partners and accountancy firm partners at the big end of town. He will be looking for ways to get retribution on Simon Bridges and his little team of enablers. However, in doing so he will unleash even more loathing amongst the back bench.

Interesting times.



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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.