Tracy Watkins on the destablisation of Bill English

Tracy Watkins says it should be no surprise that rumblings about Bill English’s leadership have started:

Rumblings in National over its election defeat are about as predictable as day following night.

While the rest of us baked in the summer sun its MPs have been experiencing the various stages of grief over the loss, including shock, anger, denial and – among some at least – acceptance.

The phones have also been ringing as MPs started to talk about what would happen if Bill English decided to step down as leader.

Some like Simon Bridges toured around seeking feedback in the provinces.

It is not yet a given that English will decide to do so at some point in this term, though it seems more likely than not that at some stage during this term he will want to pass the baton on. For now the National leader still seems fired up at the manner of his ousting as prime minister.

If he had an ounce of humility he’d resign.

Anger over National’s defeat has lasted longer than usual because many in the caucus, including English, still don’t believe they lost the election, but were robbed of it by NZ First leader Winston Peters.

And who ran a campaign against Winston Peters? Who failed to reach across the house to create some detente with Winston Peters? Whose campaign team were donkey deep in illegally leaking personal superannuation details of Winston Peters? If, as Bill English claims, that he knew nothing, then it rather begs the questions as to why the leader didn’t know what was going on in his own campaign team?

That same sense of grievance has also sustained many of National’s supporters, who have stayed immensely loyal to the party over more than a decade and who still show no sign so far of transferring their allegiance to Labour.

Why would they transfer? Labour offered them nothing. and that is why they won’t change.

English is probably a key reason for that support which is why toppling him would be electoral madness right now.

He also won huge respect for his performance on the campaign trail. He is seen as having earned the right to leave with dignity.

What a load of rubbish. English is not the reason for them staying. TINA (There Is No Alternative) is the reason they stay. Bill English’s master plan was, and still is to win on their own. For that reason alone he should be axed.

If the polls turn, English will probably be first to realise that time has come. He has given decades to the party including a miserable stint in the early 2000s as Opposition leader.  He won’t want to lead the party through another election defeat.

But he will if he stays.

But the jostling is well underway for if – or when – that time comes.

Some of the speculation has been sparked by a barbecue at the Tauranga home of senior MP Simon Bridges, whose name is increasingly linked to leadership speculation.

But that barbecue was organised as part of a two-day caucus retreat in Tauranga that was planned long ago.

And who published the info on the BBQ? Can’t say my name Tracy?

The knives are clearly out for English’s deputy Paula Bennett as the caucus looks for scapegoats, however.

According to one MP, the mood against Bennett runs deep.

Finance spokesman Steven Joyce is also being fingered.

Even the National Party board is copping some of the backlash.

The board should be cleaned out. National has retained board members for far too long, always claiming the timing is never right. Screw that, clean it out, and the leadership and start again.

But all this points to a far deeper battle over the ideological heart and soul of the National Party. Under Key and English the party moved further and further to the centre.

English, Bennett and Joyce were all pivotal in that shift.

They went well past the centre…further left than Helen Clark’s government.

The more conservative and activist elements of the right wing of the party were forced into the background by the Key Government’s phenomenal success.

National’s election defeat may unleash those forces.

Unleash the hounds. Time for blood and guts. We need a good stoush.



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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.