This article was being written when my father came in and announced Judith Collins, Member for Papakura, had won the National Party leadership contest caused by the sudden departure of former leader Todd Muller on Monday night. When writing it, I was not expecting a decision to be made before I scheduled it for publication.
Before I write about the challenge Ms Collins has ahead of her, I want to acknowledge the rough eight weeks that Mr Muller has had as Leader of the Opposition. In many ways I feel quite sorry for Mr Muller and his family, in terms of the how he has been treated. Politics, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters both noted can be a brutal arena. You are permanently on notice to perform. You have to be able to front the cameras even when you don’t want to. The hours can be horrendous, and yet life has to go on. Some are continuing to jump on him despite the revelations that he has had a mental health crisis. To me that is poor form, jumping on someone whose mental health has suffered. So I wish Mr Muller and his family well as he contemplates his future in politics.
But his departure leaves the National Party facing the same questions that they faced a mere 54 days ago. It leaves them with little time to put together a new plan. It has left them frantically taking signage that had probably only been erected that same weekend. It leaves them facing a massive task ahead if they are to summit Mt Jacinda.
But attempt it they must. And that is where I think they have an opportunity to be bold, daring and go a few places that they have never been before. Certain National Members of Parliament right now strike me as being the people of the hour, whilst others have never looked more past their use by dates than now.
If I were Ms Collins, I would be announcing some policies that would lay down the challenge to the Government and hopefully buy some time to sort out the internal obstacles. They might include scrapping district health boards in favour of the old Health Funding Authority model; replacing N.C.E.A. in schools; rewriting the Social Welfare Act. To galvanize the economy, National could announce a plan to install insulation in all social/state housing within five years; explore the possibility of hydrogen as a fuel from the waste stream; increase research and development expenditure to 2% of G.D.P.
In terms of National’s internal issues there are a few immediate steps that need to be taken immediately:
- Whether by contract, by memorandum or by other means, National needs to get its M.P.’s on the same page about privacy, human rights and common decency and it needs to do so quickly – what has happened around the e-mailing of details to M.P.’s is not acceptable and those concerned should be very glad that the Police have not – YET – decided to press charges
- The spokesperson portfolio’s need to be divided up again – there are a few obvious candidates. Shane Reti should be given Maori Affairs; Simon Bridges could be offered Justice; Mark Mitchell could have Corrections and Police; Nikki Kaye could be given the Environment portfolio
- Come up with a new slogan
Strap in everyone. Just before I hit publish, I found out that Gerry Brownlee, Member for Ilam and a proponent of mining in national parks – at least he was in 2010 – is Deputy Leader. This is going to be a wild ten weeks in the run up to the 2020 General Election.