National MP Michael Woodhouse, who was effectively sacked with the announcement of the party list on Saturday, will have considerable support from the deep south.
POLITIK understands party members in the Otago-Southland region ranked him at the top of the regional list that they submitted to the party’s list ranking committee on Saturday.
Their list is confidential for now but will be unveiled at the regional annual meeting next year. which will give party members an opportunity to have their say on his departure which might well include criticism of not only what leader Christopher Luxon and the party did but how he left Woodhouse to find out only minutes before the list was published.
That broke with a convention established by John Key that the party did not use the list to persuade MPs to retire.
But Luxon will also face criticism from within the caucus that he and the party have humiliated some senior members by pushing them down the list in a desire to try and present a more gender and ethnic diverse caucus.
But though the party and Luxon hailed the final list as a triumph for diversity and new faces, it wasn’t.
Luxon’s comments were spin that was given a reality bath by the party’s pollster shortly after he made them.
David Farrar, the owner of Curia polls, published a list which showed that on current polling, only four new faces would make it into Parliament as a consequence of the list.
But what Luxon might have to contend with now is that in their anxiety to show National to be a gender-balanced, ethnically diverse party, a number of MPs and candidates will have had their noses put out of joint.
The irony is that what amounts in some cases to humiliation was pointless; the new names promoted above both sitting MPs and candidates in safe seats are highly unlikely to make it into Parliament.
Add to that the fact that the list re-orders National’s caucus rankings and pushes some current front bench spokespeople beyond the possibility of making Cabinet in any National-led government, and Luxon may find that he has planted the seeds of a divided caucus.
Certainly, one former National MP seemed to think that when he told party friends that the list looked like the product of Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis.
Woodhouse was clearly stunned by the position he was offered on the list.
MPs and candidates were phoned on Saturday afternoon between about 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm to be told their positions on the list.
Both Luxon and party president Sylvia Wood spoke to Woodhouse, but shortly after those conversations, he put up a Facebook post saying he would not stand on the list but would remain the party candidate in the safe Labour seat of Dunedin.
And he made it clear in his post that he felt he had been forced out.
“It was clear from the ranking offered that I was not part of the leadership’s thinking regarding Ministerial positions, so I feel the best thing to do is to stand aside and allow a fresher face into the Caucus from the list,” he said.
And he added a sting in the tail.
“I do so somewhat sad about the process of my departure from political life.”
Woodhouse, a Catholic, has voted on the conservative side of most of Parliament’s conscience votes on moral issues, but he is generally not identified as being part of the National Party’s so-called “Taliban”; its evangelical wing.
Late in 2021, during a debate on the controversial Conversion Practices Bill to outlaw gave conversion therapy, Woodhouse not only voted against the legislation but became embroiled in a political brawl with Chris Bishop.
Leader Judith Collins sacked Bishop as shadow leader of the House over a Facebook post from him criticizing those who opposed the Bill.
She then appointed Woodhouse to replace him.
In November 2021, Luxon replaced Collins as leader and almost immediately fired Woodhouse as shadow leader and replaced him with Bishop.
If Bishop did play an influential role in what would have been Luxon’s recommendations to the list ranking committee, then Wodehouse’s departure would seem to be the final chapter in the saga.
But on Saturday’s unveiling of the list, party president Sylvia Wood was anxious to underline the diversity of the list.
“I’m thrilled that our 2023 list presents 21 women and 19 men in the top 40; European, Maori and the Cook Islands, Tongan, Samoan, Korean, Filipino and Chinese New Zealanders,” she said.
But because National has broken with its usual practice of listing the caucus first on its list, being in the top 45 is essentially meaningless.
Seventeen candidates are either sitting MPs or highly likely to win back Labour seats listed below 45 on the list.
On current polling, that leaves 29 seats to be filled.
There are 18 in the top 45 who are either sitting MPs in safe seats or candidates for a winnable seat.
That leaves just 11 seats at most that will need to be filled from the list.
That would mean Nicola Willis (possibly Chris Bishop if he fails to win Hutt South); Paul Goldsmith, Melissa Lee, Gerry Brownlee, Nancy Lu, Katie Nimon, Agnes Loheni, Maureen Pugh, Emma Chatterton and James Christmas would make it off the list.
But that list is scarcely diverse. Melissa Lee (Korean New Zealander) is already an MP, and Agnes Loheni (Samoan) has been an MP.
The list also offers some possibly controversial hints as to who might make the Cabinet, even though Luxon was trying to say the list was not a Cabinet.
“I’ll make a decision about Cabinet on the other side of the election,” he said.
“I will talk about Cabinet posts after the election.”
He may find some of his MPs want to talk about Cabinet before then.
Most notably, Stuart Smith and Scott Simpson, currently ranked 16 and 17 in National’s hierarchy, have been dispatched to 55 and 56 on the list.
Instead of 26th on the caucus lineup, Nicola Grigg has been propelled up to 19 on the list, which would indicate a Cabinet slot.
Number 21 on the list is a new candidate, Suze Redmayne, a farmer, who is standing for the safe Rangitikei seat, who Luxon singled out in the press conference as he listed the main features of the list.
In an unusual move which almost looks like a National version of Labour’s “man ban”, the party has placed all its female candidates above the non-Cabinet section of male candidates.
Thus from, 45 to 70 on the list is all male, including six sitting MPs.
Ultimately the list betrays National’s sensitivity over its lack of women and ethnic diversity, but the reality is that the list placements are unlikely to make a dramatic change to the look of its caucus.