National Party President Peter Goodfellow at the party's lower North Island conference last month.

National Party President Peter Goodfellow’s announcement on Thursday that he would resign from the presidency but remain on the party board has done nothing to subdue the widespread criticism within the party over his role as President.

It has been clear for some time that Leader Christopher Luxon was unimpressed with Goodfellow.

When Luxon was elected as National Leader, Goodfellow was not present at the media conference to announce the leadership change.

And earlier this year, when National held a caucus retreat in Queenstown, it broke with tradition and did not invite the party board to attend.

That apparent frostiness between the Leader and the President, along with the suddenness of Goodfellow’s resignation, rather than it being canvassed at the party’s recent regional conferences, is leading some senior party figures to suggest that Luxon is behind it.

Criticism of Goodfellow began to mount during the leadup to the 2020 election as National faced a number of candidate selection controversies.

There was particular concern that he had been personally involved in a large number of candidate pre-selection meetings.

Previous National presidents had not done this.

And then after the election his apparent unwillingness to accept any blame for the election loss angered many.

presence was reflected in comments to the party’s Constitutional Review, conducted after the 2020 election.

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Party members were asked whether the President should be ineligible to sit on pre-selection boards; the membership did not go that far but instead approved a rule limiting any pre-selection panel to two board members.

And then after the election his apparent unwillingness to accept any blame for the election loss angered many.

Instead he appeared to blame Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for National’s poor showing.

Prior to Covid, National had been preparing for an election campaign which would have been a battle of ideas, he said.

“We were poised to have that fight early this year, but that quickly descended into a race of celebrity leadership in trying times.

“Politics as usual was locked down and reasoned debate on contentious issues almost became treasonous, and the understandable human expression of fear and uncertainty by the public gave rise to solidarity for the greater good.”

He said it became a crime for the Opposition to ask legitimate questions or comment.

“Democracy for a period of time gave way to a form of temporary tyranny that one should fear death threats or violence for voicing an opinion, no matter how much you disagree. That was the reality.”

At the party’s annual conference after the 2020 election, long-standing Northland party member Grant McCallum stood for the board on a clear agenda calling for change.

In an email to delegates, he had said: “Our Party, New Zealand’s representative of individual freedom, equality of opportunity and personal responsibility – has lost touch with its members, and as a result, everyday New Zealanders.   

“These are issues that start from the top and must be addressed from today if we want any chance to win in 2023.”

But Parliament’s former Speaker, Sir David Carter, was elected to the board. Though he initially supported the re-election of Goodfellow as President, he was to challenge him last year.

Carter made no secret within the party that he was unimpressed with Goodfellow and believed that then-leader Judith Collins supported that view.

So last year, at the annual conference, when the board vote was called to re-elect Goodfellow as President, Carter announced his intention to challenge him, expecting to hear Collins second his self-nomination.

But she was silent, and Goodfellow was re-elected.

Carter immediately resigned from the board and headed to the airport to return to Christchurch, saying he had “zero confidence” in Goodfellow.

Goodfellow has promoted himself to rank and file National Party members as a highly experienced (and wealthy) business person who had a particular ability to raise funds for the party.

In a post-election email to members supporting his re-nomination for the board  in 2020, he detailed his long career within the party and said: “ It is this grassroots involvement, together with my professional career and personal relationships with our donors, that makes me uniquely qualified to serve you on our Board.”

He did not mention that National’s donations, as reported to Election Commission, fell almost 40% from $4.6m in 2017 to $2.8m in 2020.

But already this year, the party has raised $1.7 million, but in an interesting revelation, the former deputy leader, Paula Bennett, told the Herald that she had been responsible for some hefty donations this year, including $250,000 from New Zealand’s wealthiest individual, Grahame Hart and another $250,000 from the toy billionaire, Nick Mowbray.

In some quarters of the party, her willingness to discuss her own role was seen as a tacit counter to Goodfellow’s persistent claim that without him, the donations could dry up.

Luxon has also met with some potential donors, and POLITIK has been told that he assured them that Goodfellow would not remains as President.

Nevertheless, at the party’s recent round of regional conferences, Goodfellow made no mention of his intention to resign from the presidency.

In May, at the Lower North Island conference, he was full of enthusiasm about the party’s campaign for the 2023 election when he addressed delegates.

“Nobody is here out of some sort of personal self-interest,” he said.

“We’re all here because we share a common set of values and a fundamental belief in a more ambitious and aspirational vision for our country or our economy.”

The party went through its regional conferences unaware he would retire.

Nominations for three three-year positions on the board closed last Tuesday.

Along with two other sitting board members, Rachel Bird and Sir Graeme Harrison, Goodfellow was nominated.

Members who might have considered standing for the board with the intention of becoming President did not put their names forward because they believed Goodfellow would be re-elected as President.

Instead, it is widely believed that an Auckland member of the board, Sylvia Wood, is likely to replace Goodfellow.

She is regarded as having been a supporter of his.

Former MP Maurice Williamson appeared to allude to this when he said last Thursday that the circumstances around Goodfellow’s resignation looked like those of an old boys’ network.

“That is just internal self-management of the very worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“The straight process of that is shockingly internal management of keeping the old boys’ network running.

“Kim Jung Un could learn a thing or two; he really could.”

Williamson was unavailable last night, but POLITIK believes he has consulted a number of senior former Parliamentary and party colleagues about his comments.

They have apparently endorsed them.

What has particularly irked Goodfellow’s critics is that though he is resigning from the presidency he intends to stay on the board for another three years.

His successor is thus going to spend their time with the former President breathing down their neck.

For National, which usually prides itself organisational efficiency, this is all looking rather untidy.