National Party President, Peter Goodfellow and (right) new board member and Goodfellow ally, Sylvia Wood.

Judith Collins’ proclamation of National Party unity lasted only from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning at the National Party conference.

Then a bid to topple President Peter Goodfellow saw its author, former Speaker, Sir David Carter, defeated and then resigning from the board.

At the same time, the party turned its face away from its rural and provincial heartland and embraced a high tech urban future for the country.

Since November last year South Island representation on its board had gone from three to one, and a party that has been described as the political wing of Federated Farmers has been left with no farmers on its board.

By last night there were reports of farmers resigning from the party. POLITIK understands two from the Rangitikei electorate have left, but there are said to be others.

The danger for National is that those resignations become a flood and the former members go to ACT.

Goodfellow appears to owe his survival to a well-organised campaign headed by Epsom party member Sylvia Wood.

POLITIK

She led a four-person ticket; herself, Stefan Sunde, Jannita Pilisi, and David Ryan to stand for four vacancies on the board.

One electorate chair told POLITIK that they were the candidates “Sylvia wanted on the board”.

All four were Goodfellow supporters; three were from his hometown, Auckland.

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Goodfellow had known for some time that there was widespread opposition to his re-election but then Carter went public last week making it clear to STUFF that he might seek the presidency.

He said that more than 100 members had rung him asking him to take the job.

“I’m going to keep an open mind. I’m prepared to consider it – it’s a decision of the board,” he said.

He may have been emboldened by an apparent refusal by Party Leader, Judith Collins, to back Goodfellow when talking to journalists last Tuesday.

“The board always makes that decision, and I’m not going to pre-empt any of that,” she said.

“I think it’s really important that as the leader of the party that I keep well away from that …but  I will be voting; I’ll be voting, full stop.”

Most party insiders were convinced she would vote to replace Goodfellow.

That supposition was further stoked when there were reports that her Papakura electorate was canvassing board candidates to find out whether they supported Goodfellow.

It seemed four of the eight candidates did not; Felicity Price, Grant McCallum, Aryanna Nafissi and John Sunckell, with Lliam Munro’s views unknown.

POLITIK Sir David Carter

Carter’s supporters believed that for him to win, he needed his own vote plus  Collins, the vote of Chief Whip Matt Doocey (who is also Carter’s nephew) and two of the four known Goodfellow opponents.

But when word got out on Saturday night that none of the opponents had been elected, it was realised (as one MP put it) that the status quo would prevail.

Even so, when the new board held its first meeting early on Sunday morning, Carer “self-nominated” for the presidency, but neither Collins nor Doocey supported him.

He then resigned from the board, telling RadioNZ that he had “zero confidence” in Goodfellow.

That resignation leaves Goodfellow with a problem. The board must now appoint a replacement.

When a delegate shouted out that that should be the next highest candidate from the conference vote (which was Goodfellow opponent, Felicity Price), the re-elected president fudged, even hinting the board might not make an appointment at all.

“The board has deliberated on this matter, and we don’t wish to be precipitate,” he said.

“We have had a vacancy before, and we have a process that we work through to find an appropriate appointment if that is the decision we make later this month.”

This provoked speculation among members that Goodfellow would attempt to keep Price off the board.

POLITIK Former leader, Sir John Key was there

Two groups within the party were furious about the way the board elections had gone.

Two farmers, Grant McCallum and John Sunckell, who both have high profiles in the rural community, were unsuccessful candidates.

Farmer delegates were quick to point out that there was now no farmer on the board at a time when the rural community was under stress.

That point was reinforced by Southland farmer John Herrick who talked about the mental health problems he had suffered, which led him to contemplate suicide because of the stress of farming.

“We need a strong opposition fighting for the rural sector around mental well being; when policies are made, why does one not think of the consequences to the men and women on the ground,” he said.

The worry among rural delegates at the conference was that National could now see more farmers support ACT.

But Collins rejected the proposition that the board needed rural representation.

“The National Party is not a party that makes its representation based on a demographic basis or anything else,” she said.

“We are very clear in our constitution that we pick the right people for the job, and those people are picked by the delegates who are here this weekend.

“There are seven hundred-odd people all paying their own way, being part of the team.

“And actually, these are their choices.”

Goodfellow echoed her.

“It’s not a representative board, and the over 700 delegates registered here have spoken,” he said.

“They spoke and have been here for three days and have spoken very clearly about what they want the board to look like and what they want to do.”

Delegates applauding Collins
POLITIK

But it was not only the provinces and rural electorates who were furious at how the board elections had gone.

So too were the Young Nats and party liberals who opposed the caucus decision to vote against the bill banning gay conversion therapy.

The Young Nats launched during a closed session on Saturday what one delegate told POLITIK was an all-out attack on the caucus for not allowing the bill to go to a Select Committee where it could have been amended.

But privately, some of the conservative members of the caucus were dismissing this idea, saying what they did sent a very clear signal to a specific electorate.

That electorate is conservative evangelical Christians.

Liberal MPs like Chris Bishop have obviously been in the minority within the caucus over the conversion therapy bill. He joined MPs including Nicola Willis, Erica Stanford, Nicola Grigg, Matt Doocey, Joseph Mooney, and Mark Mitchell to wear rainbow ribbons given them by the Young Nats to show their support for the bill.

Bishop also made his views clear on Twitter.

Replying to a tweet saying: “Hated your vote on conversion therapy”, Bishop replied: “Yeah, me too.”

POLITIK National Party leader Judith Collins addresses the conference

Collins’ reply suggested that her sympathies were not with the liberals but rather the evangelical Christians.

“The members here gave a very clear signal that they don’t want anybody in positions of responsibility in our party who believe that the personal views are greater than those of the party,” she said. (disregarding the fact that the ribbons had been supplied by Young Nats delegates.)

“I would say that anyone who feels like that then that is something that will be taken up in caucus.”

Collins tried to shift the focus off the internal divisions within the party with a speech proposing seven “big fixes” for New Zealand covering how to lift incomes, housing; transport; education; gangs; health and technology. There was no new policy, but Collins is promising a technology summit later this month.

However, such is the mood within the party that POLITIK understands that in a 100 member closed-door policy session yesterday afternoon, there were questions about why agriculture had been left out.

One delegate emailed POLITIK saying the delegates “were very critical of the absence of a rural/Groundswell issue. Grant McCallum and other rural reps were furious. Louise Upston, who is leading it, said they would take it back to caucus.”

All of this made Collins’ windup to her speech sound rather hollow.

Remember this,” she said.

“We are better together.”