National Party members are about to get an expurgated version of their party’s review of what went wrong during the election campaign.
Ironically the invitations being sent out to members to attend meetings to be briefed on the review comes as a new poll shows the party rating back at the levels it was in March and April.
That recovery could easily be threatened if a warts-and-all report on the party’s election debacle were to be made public.
But behind the scenes, among some MPs, senior party members and former staff, there is at best cynicism, at worst, anger, that the party will not share the full review with its key stakeholders.
There are claims that the board is doing this to protect itself and to keep its own role in the defeat hidden.
POLITIK was told that the draft of the review, which originally went to the party board, set the blame for the loss on both the caucus and the board.
But in his public comments, Party President, has seemed to direct criticism only at the caucus.
The full draft is being tightly held by the board and not even being shared with MPs.
One MP who was given a summary of the report on Tuesday described it as “politically naïve”.
In part, that might be because only three of the review panel has experience in the party; the chair, Mark Darrow; former mInister Kate Wilkinson (who had to pull out because of a conflict of interest) and former President Judy Kirk.
And of that trio, really only Kirk has worked at the highest levels within the party.
Darrow has been the chair of the Botany electorate and returned to clean up the mess left behind after Jami Lee Ross resigned.
The other two members, June McCabe and Jamie Beaton, came from the corporate world and are not known to have any real experience of election campaigns.
Nevertheless, the party hierarchy clearly regards the report as political dynamite.
Party President Peter Goodfellow said in an email to members that to publish the full report “would give our political opponents the much-needed distraction they want from us holding the Government to account for its failings.
“We will not allow that to happen,” he said.
Instead, it seems the party has agreed that all its messaging will point to the future rather than back to what is obviously an embarrassing past.
Wellington regional chair, Bernard Cleary, emailed members in the region with details of the first meeting in Wellington next Tuesday and signed off by saying that the party would now “chart a united, focused, and clear path forward together.”
Just how united might be an issue.
Party Leader, Judith Collins, has repeatedly stressed that the review is the board’s review, by implication, not hers.
“It’s something that’s been arranged by the board of the National Party; it’s their review they commissioned it,” she told RNZ on Tuesday.
The review comes on top of another on party governance conducted by the former leader, Jim McLay, which POLITIK understands has proposed that the board include independent directors.
In his email to members, Goodfellow summarised the election review report by appearing to put the blame squarely on the caucus.
“The Review Panel found many contributing factors to our poor election result in 2020,” he said.
“Chief among them the disunity, leaks, and poor behaviour that severely impacted public perception of National as an alternative to the Labour Government.
“But this was by no means an isolated factor.”
MPs might add to that the fact that the campaign was underfunded. Because of that, they could not hire top-flight talent, like the social media experts Topham Guerin, and the changes in leadership left the party without a coherent message or clear strategy.
This was also the first election since 2008 that the Australian political consultants Crosby Textor had not worked with National.
Labour, on the other hand, had extensive access to data techniques developed by the Australian Labor Party.
National MPs might reflect on all this and look at the latest Morgan poll, which covers the period January 25 – February 21, and wonder what might have been.
The poll shows Labour on 45 per cent, down five per cent on the election. National is up 3.5 per cent to 29 per cent. However, once the support parties are added in, the Greens on a whopping 13.5 per cent and ACT barely moving on 7.5 per cent the centre-left has increased its share of the vote since the election to 58.5 per cent while the centre-right is up to 36.5 per cent.
If National had got that result on election night it would have had three more MPs; Harete Hipango; Jonathan Young and Tim MacIndoe.
Judith Collins will be happier with this result than Jacinda Ardern. Even with the background mumblings about the election review and the growing media focus on the new MP, Christopher Luxon, it shows the party is at least beginning to recover from the October debacle.
But Collins herself, when she contested the leadership in February 2018, set 35 per cent as the minimum that any leader needed to achieve if they wanted to survive.
“Once things start getting under 35 per cent, people start saying ‘can we win?’ And I know I am putting a mark up there which at some stage in the future if I am successful this time, that people will say ‘well, you set that mark,” she said.
“Yep, let me set that mark.”
And though Collins may not want to own the party review, it would seem obvious that any leak of its contents, which must cover one of the most tumultuous period for any political party in recent years, has the potential to send National back down to its election night ratings.
Now Collins big challenge is to move votes from Labour and the Greens across the centre line to National.