If ever there was an awkward day for the National party it must have been yesterday.
If it could go wrong, it did.
It farewelled two of its most liberal MPs who only four weeks ago were ranked two and four in its caucus.
A report from a QC revealed the fatal political miscalculations of a woman who for over 40 years has been regarded as a prime mover and shaker within the party.
The same report revealed the inflated self- regard of a now-disgraced National MP.
A spokesperson hopelessly botched a TV interview.
And then to cap it off a poll revealed that the centre-right National/Act block needs to win 12% of the vote off the centre-left block to be in a position to form the next Government.
The valedictory speeches from Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams were, at least, well mannered without the rancour and allusions to factional divisions which marked the speech from Sarah Dowie on Tuesday night.
Nevertheless, they were, in a sense, a faction departing the party. They represented an urban liberalism which if National gets in the low to mid-thirties at the election (as last night’s poll suggests) could be in relatively short supply in National’s next caucus.
That is because National’s evangelical Christian conservatives tend to hold safe electorate seats and could number as many as nine out of a caucus of 40 if National polled at 32 per cent, as the One News Colmar Brunton poll last night suggested.
Currently, around 11 of the 55 MP caucus are evangelical conservatives.
Adams memorably condemned their politics during a speech on the abortion law reform bill earlier this year.
Kaye not only asserted her liberal credentials in her valedictory speech in Parliament last evening but reminded her own party of the strong liberal tradition that it contains.
“I feel proud to have followed a line of inspirational and liberal Nats, from Katherine Rich to Simon Power, Jim McLay, Marilyn Waring, to Chris Finlayson,” she said.
“I’ve helped keep the flame alive in our caucus, alongside my friend Amy Adams.
The most likely heirs to the tradition that Kaye talked about are now Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis — but Bishop could lose his Hutt South seat and thus have to join Willis as a list MP.
They will be hoping for high list places when National orders its list in just over a week.
In her speech, Kaye referred to her great friend, Michelle Boag.
She acknowledged Boag’s role in the recent leak of confidential Covid-19 patient data to MP Hamish Walker, who then tried to leak it to media.
“I still recognise that some people make terrible mistakes, but still she has given decades of political and charitable service to our nation,” she said.
Unfortunately, Mike Heron QC, whose report for the State Services Commissioner was released yesterday was not quite so forgiving.
“The cause of the leak was, first and foremost, deliberate and politically motivated,” he concluded.
And referring to Clutha-Southland National MP, Hamish Walker, as well as Boag, he said: “The leak was committed by motivated individuals knowing they had no entitlement to disclose the information they did.”
The matter is now with the Privacy Commissioner.
But Walker, in a statement to Heron, continued to try and justify his actions.
“He advised that he leaked the information in an effort to hold the Government to account and to respond to an accusation of racism,” said Heron.
“He explained how one of his constituents had informed him about a likely influx of people to the constituency from three countries, which was causing concern because of inadequate facilities and preparation for the influx.”
He said Boag had offered to send him the patient data to show that his statement was not racist.
“After seeing her email, I could not believe confidential patient information was being sent to a wide range of people from the Government like a school newsletter with no password protection, no system requiring a secure username and password to log on and access the information, no redaction of patient details to protect privacy, and no confidentiality statement on the attachment itself,” he told Heron.
“I saw this as a major Government flaw that I could expose at the same time.”
National’s new leader, Judith Collins, will be frustrated by this admission that at least as far as this backbencher went, it was a policy of “anything goes” when it came to scoring a point against the Government.
Last night’s Colmar Brunton poll showed that the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is far and away the most trusted politician in New Zealand. Eighty-two per cent of those polled trusted her; 16 per cent did not. Collins is a much more polarising figure with only 47 per cent trusting her and 45 per cent not.
The risk for her is that Walker’s continued attempts to justify his actions have the potential to damage National as a whole and therefore her.
Housing spokesperson, Jacqui dean, told the AM Show that in its last term in Government, National had built 30,000 state houses.
Challenged by host, Duncan Garner, about the figure, she said: “I did my research before coming on this show.”
Unfortunately, Figures from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development show National actually built 2670 homes in its nine years – only 9 per cent of what Dean claimed – and sold 2728.
The problem for political parties is that when things go wrong, they seem to go horribly and consistently wrong, and many National MPs and supporters might well feel that is what is happening to them at present.
But though the polls look dire; last night’s One News Colmar Brunton poll had Labour on 53%; the Greens on 5% with National on 32% and ACT on five per cent, the centre-right versus centre-left block is not unbridgeable in seven weeks.
National and ACT between them would need to win at least 11 per cent off the current Labour-Greens vote.
That sort of gain happened as recently as during the last election campaign.
In 2017 Labour was polling at between 24 and 27 per cent at the end of July. On election day it got 36.9 per cent of the vote; a gain over those seven weeks of between 10 and 13 per cent.
But if National is to do that, it will not need any more days like yesterday.