National Leader Christopher Luxon arrives at his partry's northern regional conference on Saturday to a standing ovation

National heads towards this weekend’s annual party conference on the back foot with a poll published yesterday showing a dramatic fall in its support.

The Roy Morgan poll for June shows support for National down four per cent; that follows a fall of one per cent in June.

The party will, however, be looking to the future at the weekend with its board electing a new president for the first time in e second consecutive month.

Peter Goodfellow has been the party’s President since 2009, and his departure, which is controversial, is almost the final break with the period when Sir John Key was party leader.

However there is one hangover from the Key years.

Gerry Brownlee, the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, announced yesterday that he would be standing list only at the election.

He will be one of five list-only nominations which are appointed by the board and is thus assured of a high position on the list.

He lost his once blue-ribbon Ilam seat at the last election, and there was speculation that some in the party were keen to see the last of him.

He had fallen out with both Simon Bridges and Judith Collins when they were leaders and seemed to have become isolated within the Caucus.

He also lost a key ally from within the party hierarchy when Christchurch-based board member Roger Bridge was forced to resign from the board after a late-night talkback call last election campaign appearing to make racist comments about an Asian candidate.

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But Brownlee has powerful support.

A forthcoming memo from former Minister, Chris Finlayson, is believed to pay a handsome tribute to him.

And on Monday, at the China Business Summit, he ended the conference with a masterful sum-up of the day’s events, a performance that must enhance his chances of achieving his ambition of becoming Foreign Minister if National forms the next government.

National’s President is elected by its ruling board, three members of which come up for re-election each year.

This year the three are Goodfellow, the party’s southern regional chair, Rachel Bird and Sir Graeme Harrison, who was appointed to the board after Sir David Carter resigned last year in protest at Goodfellow’s continuing on as President.

Nominations for the board closed on June 21, and only the three sitting members were nominated.

But two days later, Goodfellow announced he would retire as President but stay on the board.

Former MP Maurice Williamson, who POLITIK understands was speaking on behalf of a number of senior members of the party, said others would have put their names forward had they known Goodfellow was retiring and accused the board of protecting an “old boys’ network.”

Party members are now speculating that Auckland employment relations consultant, Sylvia Wood, will replace Goodfellow.

Wood does not have an extensive record at senior levels in the party but is believed to have the support of Goodfellow.

The new President will face an immediate challenge with the party’s fortunes appearing to slump in the Roy Morgan poll.

Whereas Labour has jumped from 31.5 per cent in May to 34 per cent in July, National has fallen from 40 per cent in May to 35 per cent in July. The Greens are down one per cent to 10.5, and ACT is up one to 11.

The net result is that the centre-left (Labour and the Greens) has gained 1.5 per cent since M<ay while the centre-right (National and ACT) has lost four per cent.

The Maori Party has gone from one per cent in May to four per cent.

Translated into seats, this would see neither National nor Labour with enough seats to govern. National and ACT would have 59 and Labour and the Greens, 56. The Maori Party would have five and the balance of power.

That Maori Party vote and the possibility that Labour might need them to form a government might explain why Labour has been so forward on Maori issues.

But Labour must worry about voters’ confidence in the government.

The Roy Morgan Government Confidence Rating increased by 2 points in July to 89.5.

The indicator is now down a massive 31.5 points from a year ago in July 2021.

In July, only 40.5% (up 1.5% points) of electors said New Zealand was ‘heading in the right direction compared to 51% (down 0.5% points) who said New Zealand was ‘heading in the wrong direction.

Though it is no longer falling, a majority saying they have no confidence is usually a precursor to a fall in support for government parties.

Labour Party MPs with long memories talk about their slump in the polls as another “winter of discontent”, a reference to 2000 when National briefly got ahead of Labour in the polls, but by April 2001, Labour was back on top and went on to win the 2002 election albeit with a much-reduced majority.

This weekend will be Christopher Luxon’s first national conference of the party that he has attended as leader.

He’ll get a good reception. He has brought order to the Caucus after the turmoil of Simon Bridges, Todd Muller and Judith Collins.

But the party will be hoping that his address on Saturday will project out beyond Christchurch to the wider electorate and, in a sense, begin their 2023 election campaign.