National’s caucus may have settled on a deputy leader yesterday, but the real battle over the future of the party is going on among its membership.
They are focused on the party’s annual general meeting on November 21 and three positions on the party board coming up for election.
That election could precipitate a major shakeup not just of the board but also the party itself with the possibility of a new President.
Two sitting members — President Peter Goodfellow and Southland region chair, Rachel Bird are standing.
So also is the just-retired former Speaker David Carter along with a former board member, Grant McCallum and an Auckland party activist, Leigh Morrow.
Bird is considered likely to be re-elected. The party’s constitution requires one member from the South Island, and she will compete with Carter.
Though he is believed to have strong support in his home Canterbury region, Carter may also attract strong opposition from other regions who may feel that an ex caucus member is the last thing needed on the board.
Caucus already has a representative, usually the Chief Whip, which means the job is likely to pass from Barbara Kuriger to Matt Doocey.
Ironically Doocey is a nephew of Carter.
Bird has been at the entre of the two MP debacles in the Southland electorate and has won some support for the way she managed them.
So all eyes will be on the two other positions coming up for re-election.
An email from a National Party conference delegate to POLITIK sets out the respective merits of Carter and Morrow.
Carter was described as “underwhelming – changing anything significant seemed too hard for him.”
And Morrow “sent out an email that was quite bereft of any concrete proposals.”
Party President Peter Goodfellow was described as “part of the problem, not the solution.”
The email writer is not alone; there is considerable speculation within the party about Goodfellow’s future.
He has been President since 2009, and there seems to be a strong “time for a change” tide moving among the party membership.
All eyes are on Goodfellow and whether he might stand down before the Wellington meeting.
Were he to do so the new board would elect his replacement.
The presumed heir apparent has been the Auckland regional chair, Andrew Hunt, but whether he now wants the job is questionable.
Otherwise, David Carter would undoubtedly fancy it, and if Grant McCallum were to be elected to the board, he too would be in the race.
He has a strong following within the party, particularly from its rural base who know him from his role as a political commentator on two farm radio shows.
He is also a very active Blue Greens member a factor which would attract support from urban liberals.
Collins will play a role in Goodfellow’s future. Any political party must be able to count on a strong relationship between its Leader and its President.
Her relationship with him has not always been good. He suspected that she was behind leaks against Simon Bridges when he was leader.
Bridges meanwhile has made it known within the caucus that he would like the finance spokesperson’s role when the caucus spokespeople are announced tomorrow.
If nothing else, the speculation within the caucus about who will get the job would seem to confirm that Paul Goldsmith will lose it.
If it was left to Collins then she would probably prefer that Andrew Bayley, a supporter of hers, get the role.
But Bayley is more of a policy wonk than an Opposition politician while
Bridges is a much more accomplished Opposition debater.
Possibly acknowledging that there were reports yesterday that Collins might seek to somehow split the portfolio between a Treasurer and a Minister of Finance.
That was done for Winston Peters and Bill Birch when National was in Government between `1996 and 1999.
In his book, “Bill Birch; Minister of Everything”, author Brad Tattersfield reveals how that arrangement was skillfully negotiated by Birch with NZ First so that the junior Minister, the Finance Minister, Birch, had oversight of the Budget, which is where the real power lies in the Cabinet.
Otherwise, Collins seems to be playing her reshuffle close to her chest.
There will be media attention on where Gerry Brownlee and Chris Luxon end up and what happens to Todd Muller.
But a clue to Collins’ intense loyalty to her supporters came yesterday with the election by caucus of Maureen Pugh as junior whip.
Pugh was memorably characterized as “f—king useless” in the leaked recording of then-leader Simon Bridges with Jami-Lee Ross.
That drove her straight into the political arms of Judith Collins who spent much of 2019 as a viable alternative to Simon Bridges.
Collins’ endorsement for her whip role would have been enough to get her elected.
But the caucus will find itself up against a much more assertive party over the next three years.
Collins has already announced a review of the election campaign, and that is likely to focus on a more substantive issue such as candidate selection and how policy is made within the party.
As the email sent to POLITIK indicates, there is a mood for change among party supporters.