Thursday, October 26, 2006

Popcorn, anyone?

Now that the issue of Parliamentary Services spending has been dealt with, it looks like we're back to normal: speculating over when John Key will roll Don Brash. Popcorn, anyone?

This is an excellent spectator sport, though not one that DPF would be likely to run a pool on (besides, as he's been reminded, internet gambling is the sole prerogative of the TAB). But it is so fun to watch the rumours and denials fly, while knowing that Key's window of opportunity to conduct a successful coup in time to bed himself in before the next election is closing. And all the more so because of the obvious way it discomforts National (though the sycophantic court environment of political parties is a key part of this. The need to present a "united front" means that no-one can honestly admit that leadership struggles happen and that its all part of the Game without being seen as "disloyal").

A Key-led National Party would certainly be more electable, precisely because it is likely to be less radical and more centrist than one led by Brash. It would also provide an opportunity for National to finally break with the toxic legacy of the 90's and pursue a milder policy agenda rather than seeking to restart the Revolution and complete Douglas and Richardson's "unfinished business". While I don't want to see a National government any time soon, if one does happen I'd rather it be the least worst National government possible - and Key clearly trumps Brash on that front (though possibly only because he hasn't been sticking his foot in his mouth for the past three years).

Of course, the fact that people outside National want to see a change in leadership will be taken as an excellent reason by some in the party to support the status quo. Which means we might get what I really want to see: a bitter and divisive leadership struggle that undermines National's election chances. That really would be entertaining. But then I'd really need to get more popcorn...


Here's my bet: around the time Brash is rolled we'll hear a lot about the "Cameron" factor; that is, a reference to the present success of British Conservative leader David Cameron in dragging his party towards the centre.

Expect movement here on social and environmental issues, less so on economic ones.

Posted by Russell Brown : 10/26/2006 01:46:00 PM

Funnily enough, as a Labour voter, I want the Nats to make the change. As long as Brash is there, the government has an easy target, and they can't resist taking the shots. But Clark wins elections by demonstrating her leadership qualities, not by getting distracted by an opponent she clearly loathes. Key will force Labour to lift their game, and that's what they need to do.

But in the meantime, yeah, pass the popcorn!


Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 01:48:00 PM

i did notice that DPF is remarkably quiet on both this, and the 'issue' of the $112,000 GST debt.

russell, do you really think they'll avoid demanding a lower taxation rate? given the surplus?

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 04:20:00 PM

What's the point on commenting on yet another round of media driven speculation about the leadership of National that goes no where? Maybe DPF is just can't be bothered responding to a story going no where.

I don't normally buy into media bias, but I do find it odd that they keep asking Key "when are you going to challenge Brash" and don't ask Goff have you got the numbers yet? There are much stronger rumblings coming from the Labour caucus than the National yet the media ignore it.

I did find one comment disingenuous, the report said that National members keep commenting on the leadership, yet that only seems to be because they keep having too because the media keep asking them.

Come on reporters start chasing the Labour caucus over leadership issues with the same amount of fervor.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 04:28:00 PM

Sillyness. Hate her or love her Helen is one of the most popular Prime Minister's NZ has ever had. And the polling indicates more popular than when she was first elected in 1999. The very thought that some are trying to whip up some non-existent leadership question are just laughable.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 05:27:00 PM

Anon 2, now *that* is pointless speculation. Helen is only in trouble if Labour's support crashes in the 6 months prior to an election. As for media bias, it is everywhere so just accept it and account for it. I figure that if those on the left accuse our media of being right wing mouthpieces and if the right accuse it of being socialist sympathisers then it can't be all bad.

National under Brash is proving to be a lousy opposition, their popularity in the polls means that won't change soon. Russell, I'm not convinced Key will make the Nats more centrist, esp if the volume on tax cuts continues (like Che alludes to), although to be fair, opposition politics is about saying stuff, not doing it. He just needs to talk a good game...

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 05:49:00 PM

I think Key moved National to a more centrist economic position last election (accepting the Cullen fund and all that). But I agree, it'll be great theatre. The noisome but effective oldster against the 'pure' but untried youngster. Make mine an extra large popcorn!

But guys, guys. Three whinges about DPF? So who must be dominating the blogosphere then? Not bad for the wee bloke (as he was when I knew him). Go DPF!

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 07:50:00 PM

Great entertainment. Key's got limited time, I completely agree, but he'll also be mindful of not wanting to be exposed to too much scrutiny too soon - it's one thing to run on a popular single issue, tax cuts, and quite another to front on all issues many of which are complex.

I wonder if Brash will do the decent thing to save them the bother?

Posted by backin15 : 10/26/2006 07:59:00 PM

I think the threat of someone replacing brash is bad news for the left. brash is a weak leader for a national party. (although he was ok for a short term)

I can see brash stepping aside gracefully (i cant see him lasting long in an internal battle) - that could play well.

> The very thought that some are trying to whip up some non-existent leadership question

I wonder if the fact that she is so dominant in the labour party is a problem - what if she is both dominant and incompetent? (that would be "become" incompetent - she was clearly good during the other terms)

having said that I agree she is a very electable person a leadership challence could be suicide if the wrong person won it.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 10:13:00 PM

Clark survived a leadership challenge back in 1996, when Labour were really struggling in the polls. Not 36% struggling, but really desperate - more like half that poll rating. Winston and the Alliance had a big chunk of the Labour vote, Mike Moore was sniping away in the background, the caucus was full of nervous nellies. She was far more unpopular than she is now. But she toughed it out.

The prospect of Brash being replaced when his party is 49% in the polls really brings home the difference between the two leaders. Listen to Brash when the media ask him about his future: it's "I'm leader while I still have the support of the caucus", or some such. Clark would be, "I'm the leader, I'll be the leader at the next election, next question". Brash is just not in her league.


Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2006 11:00:00 PM

I disagree with the prevailing wisdom that Key represents the centrist wing of the National Party. While he likes to present himself as such, the fact that he has been unable to secure the backing of Bill English or any supporters of the centrist ancien regime suggests to me that he is suspected by many in the caucus as Brash with a smile.

As I posted over at Just Left: What's most interesting about the MPs the Herald names as Key supporters is that at least two of them (Carter and Smith) were Brash ringleaders/numbers-men in the Brash-on-English coup of 2003. This suggests that the Brash boosters who thought English was too much of a fuzzy centrist are now getting in behind Key. This betrays Key's presentation of himself as a centrist as somewhat problematic. If his supporters are anyting to go by, he would seem to represent the right wing in this latest skirmish in the long-running National civil war between the centrists and the New Right revolutionaries.

Take a look at all the National coups since Helen Clark has been Labour Leader and you'll see what I mean. Each one pitted a centrist against a stauch small government right-winger.

In the 1997 coup, Shipley the staunch right-winger beat Bolger the centrist. In 2001, Shipley was in turn beaten by centrist Bill English, who was himself beaten in 2003 by staunch right-winger Don Brash.

The fascinating thing about the 2006/7 coup is that Brash has basically lost his whole caucus (if National-leaning commentator Matthew Hooten is to be believed). The movers and shakers in the National Caucus are now forming two groups of candidates who represent these twin streams of thinking in the National Party.

If ths support of Carter, Smith and Mapp for Key is any indication, the 2006/7 leadership change will be a contest between the centrism of English (and Power and Rich?) and the right-wingery of Key (and Collins?). Of course, whoever emerges as the winner will be presented to the public as a moderate. But this renewed tension between centrism (or "Labour lite" as Brash has dubbed it) and the full-throated revival of the New Right Revolution is the source of the leadership rumblings.

If the history of the last three coups were to be followed, a centrist candidate (English or perhaps Power) would prevail over the right-wing candidacy of Key - because, in each case, the ideological position of the incumbent is 'corrected' by his/her replacement with someone from the other 'stream' of thinking.

But, there are some complicating factors at play this time round.

First, it's not a straight run between the incumbent and a single, centrist challenger. Were that the case, the challenger would already have seized the leadership from Brash. Rather, we have twin challenges against Brash - the Key candidacy says it's not the right-wingery that's the problem: rather, Brash is simply too inept a salesman of that message; the English/Power candidacy says it's the right-wingery that's the problem - and a new, more centrist course needs to be taken. These twin challenges create a stalemate, and one which could persist for some time because the centrist English/Power camp has more political nous and deeper understanding of internal caucus dynamics than media/public favourite Key.

Second, National is undertaking this soul-searching at a time when it is riding high in the polls - which does buttress the position of the incumbent. As Hooten has said, the majority of National MPs acknowledge Brash has to go - believing that he cannot beat Clark in 08, and writing off the big poll lead as a reflection of (possibly transitory) disapproval of Labour rather than overwhelming support for National's policy programme. However, launching a coup at a time of a large poll lead is very difficult, especially where getting new (politically unsavvy) MPs on board is concerned.

All up, I would think Brash is safe for now - if only because the emerging leaderships of the two streams of National thinking vying to succeed him are locked in a complicated game a shadow boxing, with neither able to land a knockout blow.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/27/2006 03:23:00 AM

I agree with the last Anon, that if there weren't several factions it would have happened already.

Richard Griffin made an interesting comment on Nat Rad yesterday afternoon (although he was hopelessly partisan to National, which I don't mind as long as it's explicit). He said why would any challenger want to knock Brash off right now, with National so high in the polls, because a poll dip is inevitable and wouldn't the challenger rather let Brash have the dip on his watch instead?

Posted by Span : 10/27/2006 07:53:00 AM

"Rather, we have twin challenges against Brash - the Key candidacy says it's not the right-wingery that's the problem: rather, Brash is simply too inept a salesman of that message; the English/Power candidacy says it's the right-wingery that's the problem - and a new, more centrist course needs to be taken."

Yep, that's the killer para in an excellent comment, Anon. I would be interested in seeing how the "Cameron Effect" affects English's chances. Course, it may be as effective as the impact that "Compassionate Conservatism" (a brilliant piece of third way vacuity) had on the chances of the British Conservative Party in 99-00, ie none at all.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/27/2006 09:33:00 AM

I'm with anon and Span on this one: other than the Cullen fund (which wasn't entirely a left right issue) what evidence is there that Key represensts a more centrist tendency in National?

Posted by Anonymous : 10/28/2006 03:56:00 PM