Naitonal Party President, Peter Goodfellow and Leader, Judith Collins

National Party members have wrapped up a week of closed-door meetings with nine candidates competing for four positions on its ruling board.

The party president, Peter Goodfellow, is not for re-election. He was re-elected last year in the immediate wake of the party’s drastic election loss.

But now, nearly a year later, the party membership appears to be having second thoughts, and there is widespread speculation that he will be dumped when the new board meets during the course of the party conference starting next Friday.

The president’s position is elected by the board, and the board that meets on Sunday morning to elect the president will, in effect, be a new board with only four returning members (including Goodfellow) and three new members.

But one of the four returning members, David Carter, the former Speaker, is believed to be ready to replace Goodfellow.

There will not be time at the conference to lobby the new board about the presidency. In fact, the rank and file membership will not be told the results of the board election until the new members have been had their first meeting.

The new members will go into that meeting 15 minutes after the chair of the party’s rules committee, Peter Kieley, had given them the results in private.

Those in the party with a conspiratorial mindset wonder whether that very short gap between the announcement of the board members and the board meeting was designed to ensure there was no time to build up a block of votes to vote Goodfellow out.

If so, it may have had the perverse effect of making Goodfellow’s future one of the main issues that the contenders for the three board positions have had to address as they have lobbied delegates.

And the president, who has held the position since 2009, may well be beginning to get nervous.

Advertisment

He got a clear signal last week when longtime Auckland board member Alastair Bell who was also selected in 2009, pulled out of the race.

Bell has been a supporter of Goodfellow.

His withdrawal is being seen as an indication that the mood of the membership is for change.

Though this has focussed on Goodfellow and the board, those are not the only issues the party membership want to see change on.

If there is one unite on, it is the question of candidate selection.

The Auckland Central debacle is the centrepiece of this argument and so now is North Harbour and Jake Bezzant, but away from the spotlight, there are a number of other selections, some in safe seats, which have left party members wondering.

Last year Goodfellow and other board members attended virtually every party pre-selection meeting where the party whittles the number standing for selection down to five to face the wider electorate at the selection meeting.

There were persistent and widespread claims that the board was playing too heavy a role over candidate selections, and the Campaign Review, which interviewed many party members, returned with a recommendation that the board play no role in pre-selection meetings.

“The Campaign Review received feedback that some members were concerned with Board involvement in pre-selection / selection processes at the loss of local members voices and decision-making,” the notes on constitutional changes distributed to members ahead of the conference say.

“Their recommendation was to remove the President and Board from the pre-selection process to ensure a local decision but also to ensure a mediation process from an impartial Board if required.”

The notes the report the board’s decision: “The Board recognised the concern of having too many of its own members on a pre-selection committee removed its ability to act impartially as required.

“As such, the board has resolved to place a cap of two directors at any time being eligible to sit on a pre-selection committee. This is to ensure there is never an overwhelming number of directors involved but also allow nominated directors to provide advice and support to pre-selection committees.”

There is a substantial gap between what the Campaign Review recommended and how the board has decided to maintain the presence of its members on pre-selection meetings.

This is likely to provoke some strong debate at the conference, with the board risking being seen to be out of step with the membership.

There are two other controversial proposals. One is to appoint two directors on to the board.

This came from a Governance Review chaired by the former leader, Sim McLay but POLITIK understands it has been met with widespread opposition from the party membership at pre-conference briefings on the proposed constitutional changes.

Another would embed the Treaty of Waitangi within the party’s constitution.

“The Campaign Review recommended the addition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi or The Treaty into the Constitution to show National’s commitment to Māori,” the notes say.

The board decision was to  add the Treaty of Waitangi within the Vision and Values section of the constitution.

There it sits but without any teeth such as the Labour Party’s commitment in this constitution that, like National acknowledges The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand but adds “That the Treaty should be honoured in government, society and the family.”

So now National’s  values are:

  • Loyalty to our country, its democratic principles and our Sovereign as Head of State
  • Recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of New Zealand
  • National and personal security
  • Equal citizenship and equal opportunity
  • Individual freedom and choice
  • Personal responsibility
  • Competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement
  • Limited government
  • Strong families and caring communities
  • Sustainable development of our environment

One issue that is unlikely to surface at the conference will be the leadership of the Parliamentary party.

National Party members like to observe a strong differentiation between the Caucus and the party, and the leadership is regarded as Caucus’s business. The board’s only power is to approve (or disapprove) of whoever Caucus chooses to be leader.

The Review said  that the board’s involvement in the leadership bid process was far down the track following a caucus vote, meaning they could not step in and remediate as required, “limiting their ability to meaningfully execute their responsibility to approve any new Parliamentary Leader as the Party Leader.”

To remedy this, the Review recommended the rules for leadership bids be written into the constitution, and the board brought earlier in the process.

But the board rejected this proposal and said it was an issue best left to Caucus.

So, ultimately, the only way the membership can register their dissatisfaction with the way the party is heading is to topple its president – which looks highly likely to happen.