National leader, Judith Collins, with her current deputy, Gerry Brownlee, and caucus members at yesterday's press conference.

The National Party yesterday put on a show of unity with even former leader, Simon Bridges, endorsing Leader Judith Collins.

But how long this will last is anyone’s guess.

What is now emerging is a picture of an election which on the party vote saw National lose the cities but hold its ground in provincial New Zealand.

If National’s election night party vote tallies are compared with election night tallies from 2017 on a percentage basis, then the bottom 25 worst performing electorates were all urban seats in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

It is possible to speculate that this drop in the party’s vote may have been driven by women who flocked to Jacinda Ardern and Labour. Or it may have been the result of a campaign which POLITIK has learned was stopped and started twice and ultimately ended up being pretty much designed and run by Leader Judith Collins.

In contrast, the seats where National held its election night vote to a smaller loss were all provincial seats like Napier, Rangitīkei, Waitaki, Whanganui, Taranaki-King Country, New Plymouth, Wairarapa, Southland, Coromandel, Invercargill or Rangitata.

Ironically the party’s candidates in these seats performed even better than the party. It wasn’t enough though in several “true blue” seats fell to Labour.

Even so,  In some seats; Invercargill, Rangitata, New Plymouth, Coromandel, Whangarei, Waitaki and Tukituki; the candidates out-performed the party by a factor of over 10 per cent.

This table shows Saturday night party votes compared with candidate votes in the 13 electorates where National performed best compared with 2017.

Party VoteCandidate Vote
Invercargill30.30%45.65%
Rangitata31.96%45.74%
Taieri21.54%29.35%
New Plymouth30.96%42.90%
West Coast-Tasman26.05%34.51%
Napier28.79%38.19%
Whanganui26.81%35.21%
Wairarapa29.92%35.36%
Coromandel33.68%46.76%
Whangarei27.03%40.54%
Waitaki31.63%45.18%
Tukituki30.82%43.01%

Evidence like this is damning as far as the nationwide campaign was concerned.

Maybe that is because the organisation of the campaign seems to have suffered from a series of stops and starts.

At the end of January, the party’s caucus met in Havelock North, and then-campaign chair Paula Bennett presented an outline of how the campaign would run.

The caucus “signed it off” in the words of one participant.

But on May 22 leader Simon Bridges was replaced by Todd Muller.

Notably the campaign chair, Bennett, was also replaced by Gerry Brownlee who took over her role as campaign chair.

He brought in a former staffer and political consultant, Tim Hurdle. Muller also appointed Auckland lobbyist and political commentator, Matthew Hooton to the team.

Hooton has claimed that they were greeted with no plan from Bennett.

She has simply tweeted “bullshit” to that allegation.

A  National source has told POLITIK the real situation was halfway in between. Significant parts of Bennett’s campaign plan had been rendered redundant by the Covid-19 crisis.

However, Brownlee and Hurdle apparently went to work to produce a new plan for the campaign.

National sources say they were hampered by a shortage of funds at party headquarters.

Then on July 14 Judith Collins replaced Muller as the leader but kept on Brownlee and Hurdle.

Four weeks after assuming the leadership, Collins was on the road campaigning in the Waikato and then the discovery of Covid cases in Auckland and the renewed lockdown threw National’s campaign into chaos.

They had to cancel their campaign launch on August 16, and that left the campaign without an over-arching theme or message.

Around this time, POLITIK has been told that Collins decided to more or less take over the campaign herself.

And over the three weeks after Auckland went into lockdown, POLITIK received no forward campaign movements email from the Collins office.

This would seem to suggest her decision to undertake what one source said was a redesign of the campaign meant that it was running on a day by day basis while the two highly organised campaigns, Labour and ACT, were issuing schedules and plans for two weeks ahead.

Collins’ propensity to “wing it” led to the campaign’s disastrous last week when she was left with an implausible argument trying to suggest Labour would introduce a wealth tax and then got into a sideshow over comments that obesity was a consequence of poor personal responsibility.

Speaking at a post caucus press conference, she almost seemed yesterday to acknowledge this might have been a mistake.

There are a few things I thought, oh, God, goodness, why did I do that,” she said.

“But that’s the nature of the beast.

“And we’re not going to go down a forensic look at that today.”

Collins said she had met with the party board on Monday to discuss setting up the review of the election campaign which the board will run.

Asked to be more specific about her mistakes she said: ”Wait for the review. There are some things I thought I could have done better.”

Collins can at least take some solace from the fact that though there are plenty of complaints about the way things went during the campaign, the prospect of a third leadership change this year horrifies both the party and MPs.

But that is where it stops.

Deputy Leader, Gerry Brownlee, could only  confirm yesterday that  he intends to return to Parliament as a list MP after losing his Ilam seat,

Asked whether he would stay on as deputy leader, he said,  that was not something that had been discussed at this point.

And Collins did not endorse  Finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, who derailed the campaign with a  $4 billion error in his financial projections.

Back in July when she took the leadership  and was asked who would be finance spokesperson, she said: “I haven’t discussed this with Gerry, but I am pretty certain that Paul Goldsmith will be in that role.”

But asked yesterday if she would keep Goldsmith on she said: “Decisions around portfolios will be made once we have the MPs are confirmed because we obviously have the special votes and also after the government puts in place their portfolios because we’ve got to match the right people.”

However, she could take solace from a pledge of loyalty from former leader, Simon Bridges, who only on Saturday night appeared to be having a flick at her election campaign.

We are where we are right now,” he said.

“I support Judith one hundred per cent as leader of the National Party, and I’m going to continue to do that right through this term.

“We have got a review now. And look, I think members of Parliament will contribute to that.”

And Collins repaid the compliment.

“The process that Simon Bridges kicked off with the policy discussion documents stood us in very good stead,” she said.

The problem for Collins now is that either that policy did not resonate in the cities or her campaign did not.

Either way, the cities were where National took their biggest hit.

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