One race or two?

As the contenders for the leadership of the National Party line up at the starting gate, they are each faced with a dilemma that confronts anyone seeking the leadership of a political party in a democracy.

This is because – for them – the leadership of their party is presumably not an end in itself, but is merely a stepping stone to the ultimate goal of becoming Prime Minister.

The contenders are embarking, in other words, on a two-stage process that requires them to win two elections in succession and to do so by gaining support from two quite separate and very different electorates.

So far so good.

The first contest demands that they should convince their own party members and activists that they are the candidate best able to represent and remain faithful to the party’s central values and goals and to sell those values and goals to the wider public; while the second contest will be about persuading the (largely non-political) wider electorate that they are not so preoccupied with the party battle that they lack the breadth of vision and understanding that will equip them to tackle and resolve society’s wider problems.

Not so, Bryan – the party members and activists have no say. The voters are the 56 National MPs.

The difficulty is this: Those whose vote will decide the party leadership are just a very particular subset of the wider public; they will tend to be the party warriors, intent on winning the party battle, attaching great importance to ideological issues and requiring evidence that the fight will be carried to the enemy.

Wrong again, see above. Bryan is thinking of the Greens or Labour perhaps?

They will be looking for proof of single-mindedness, aggression and the strength never to back down. Politics is, after all, a tough business and it demands the capacity to give, and take, some pretty rough treatment – and I say this with feeling, as someone who stood unsuccessfully in 1992 for the leadership of the British Labour Party.

But even those voters whose votes decide the leadership (as well as the candidates themselves) will have to have half an eye on the electoral contest yet to come at general election time. What would be the point of demonstrating to the party faithful all that they might wish in terms of strength and toughness and ideological purity, if it is achieved at the price of alienating those whose support will ultimately decide who wins a general election?

The contenders, in other words, are fighting two separate battles. The first is to win the support of their own party’s “attack dogs” – but following immediately, and spilling over from that exercise, is the battle for the support of the uncommitted voters in the wider public.

Still stuck in the wrong groove with the imagery.

That is the dilemma that now faces the contenders, particularly the two who seem most likely to emerge as the front-runners, Judith Collins and Simon Bridges. It is a dilemma that is, for both of them, extremely difficult to resolve.

Judith Collins exemplifies the point. She is reported as opining that the National Party has moved “too far to the left”, a view calculated to appeal to the National Party’s conservatives and ideologues. Her problem is that, while it may appeal to party members who want to see a tougher line, it may not play so well with those voters who are not so committed.

An interesting assumption on Bryan’s part that all “not so committed” voters would hate a move to the right. Is this an admission that people who have not thought things through, the un- or ill-informed, always vote left. If so, it is a sad indictment on them.  Is it really only National party members who wish to see a tougher line on crime and punishment or a tougher response to benefit bludgers or a tougher line on corporate tax avoidance? Is the left a soft pushover for these things?

It is, of course, a view that fits well with her carefully cultivated image as a tough operator – remember her role as mentor to Cameron Slater and how she seemed positively to relish the soubriquet of “Crusher” Collins?

Ah, yes, don’t forget to link Cam and Collins…

But even those party members who would welcome that kind of aggressive approach might pause to wonder whether the floating voter will be attracted or repelled.

I am sure we will see plenty from the CoL that will repel floating voters. The recent poll would suggest that many of the Winston First followers have been repelled in the first 100 days.

Simon Bridges is another instance. His reputation largely rests, for good or ill, on his aggressive performances in various television studios. Many of his supporters will welcome and celebrate his “take no prisoners” approach but what will be seen by some as strength will seem to others to be combativeness for its own sake.

In either case, sweetness and light would certainly be in short supply – and the lesson of our current politics is that our voters want to be led by people they like.

Are we really doomed forever to the shallow cult of celebrity leadership?

Lorde for PM anyone?

Bryan Gould

“Our culture has become so obsessed with celebrity that it’s easy to confuse fame with success. They are not the same thing.” 

― Daniel Rodriguez, Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept

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Dr Seuss may have been describing WH when he wrote, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish. And mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy.”  WH, however, is tallish and only just fits in his MG.