The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

National-related natterings

Regretfully I was away from keys for several days recently. Luckily Danyl Mclaughlan wasn't. He's read The Hollow Men already and has his initial impressions up on Public Address.

While who will be the new National leader is of some interest to me, it seems Key is almost inevitable. I've long wanted to see the return of English, not because I think he'd be bad for National (if that was my motivation then I'd say bring it on, Judith Collins), but because I think he's one of the few National MPs who could actually do the job. Key, like Brash, has a lack of experience. As time goes on fewer and fewer National MPs have ever been in Cabinet. I think it's important, for our democratic process, that the other candidate in the Prime Ministerial stakes has a range of political experience, beyond being a relatively new MP. Brash didn't and it showed. In this regard, Key is in the same category as the man he wishes to succeed.

For the sake of showing unity and stability, National really needs the leadership to be uncontested. For this reason English may decide to forgo an attempt, unless he knows he has the numbers. For every National leader since Bolger it has felt like there was a clear successor always waiting in the wings - someone we all knew by name and face long before the knife went in. You can hardly say the same of Labour in the last decade, and it has been a definite strength for the centre-left, long accused of division.

The Deputy Leadership will possibly be more interesting though. I've heard media commentary that Brownlee has done a deal to sew it up for himself, and Russell Brown has blogged that, but since then there has been speculation that English may win the spot. Collins has also indicated she'll be in, and there are rumours about Katherine Rich too. Again, lack of contest would be a good sign to the public that National can provide a viable and secure alternative Cabinet, but it seems unlikely.**

But perhaps the aspect of this that fascinates me the most is what will happen to Brash now, an element STC has also been musing on. Given his age, and the damage that politics so far has wrecked on both his personal and professional lives, Brash may be set to stand down, bringing Katrina Shanks in on the list (the one advantage I guess of having a leader without an electorate). How will a new leader reshuffle portfolios to show some change to the public, assert their authority, reward their friends, safe-guard against their enemies, and also deal with Brash in a way seen as fair (from many different angles)? Speculation in the Herald yesterday (offline) was that English might be brought back into Finance and Brash thus given education (shudder) or economic development.

Whatever happens it will be interesting to watch how it unfolds, when it unfolds, and whether National's poll ratings hold up. I suspect that poll-wise any damage to National will mean voters either switch off in disgust or attach to United, Act or NZ First instead, rather than heading to Labour. If Labour's percentage stays stable, or improves slightly, it could well still end up ahead of National if the Tories shed enough.

We're still a long way from the ballot box anyway, but if Labour could end the year ahead that will be a psychological advantage.***

* Not least because I'd like to know what to name the new category I'll now need
** In general I think contested elections, in any environment, are A Good Thing, as they show the health (or otherwise) of democracy within an organisation. But in terms of The Game, electoral contests can be more wounding than winning.
*** And put the new National leader on the back foot. Key/English must be a bit miffed at the timing - I'm sure any leadership hopefuls would have wanted Brash to carry the poll drop that was likely to come out of The Hollow Men and other recent troubles (and a slightly resurgent Labour), rather than presiding over it themselves.

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