State Of It: Factional Fractures In Evidence As National Loss In Northland Looms

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Winston Peters on the campaign trail. Image courtesy of Dunedinstadium.files.wordpress.com.

Politics is a science. And when you create a vacuum an opponent will occupy it.

By Selwyn Manning.

IRRESPECTIVE OF THE FINAL COUNT, Auckland-based National Party insiders say there will be three losers once the by-election votes are counted, and they are: John Key, Steven Joyce and the National Party itself.

That’s the scornful assessment by some well positioned National Party conservatives who insist fractional fractures are in evidence among National Party loyalists as Northland voters prepare go to the polls in the Peters versus National by-election.

They say many have become disillusioned with the Party’s leadership: most recently, with the party’s campaign strategy, and formerly, with the values and judgment calls by their leader John Key.

Only a week ago, National contacts in Auckland were still hopeful of a victory. But that hope began to ebb after campaign manager Steven Joyce, and his team led by Jo de Joux and Chris Bishop, decided to deploy a posse of ‘flash Harry’ Auckland-based urban Nats to the far north for a ‘shack-door-knocking’ drive.

National Party campaign manager, Steven Joyce.
National Party campaign manager, Steven Joyce.

Fourteen days ago, Steven Joyce’s message to the campaign team was, they had 10 days to turn a National Party loss into a win.

Despite a huge telephone-canvassing effort in recent days, teams of shack-door-knockers deployed to the region on the weekend, and an unprecedented effort to where high-profile MPs and Ministers descended on Northland “within the comfort of their Ministerial cars”, Joyce above all others looks set to take the blame for a loss of a once safe Tory seat.

On Wednesday evening the 3News Reid Poll tweaked National’s fears. The poll recorded Winston Peters on 54 percent, “well ahead of his closest rival – National’s Mark Osborne, who’s stranded on 34 percent”.

The 3News poll confirmed what pundits were hearing about National’s own internal polls, which, two weeks ago, hinted that the campaign was too close to call. But as polling day loomed, National’s polling suggested Peters was pulling ahead and despite National’s efforts, a preferential shift in favour of Peters was observed.

So John Key made an early return from his trip to South Korea and Japan and headed straight to Northland. But as Fairfax’s Tracey Watkins reported:

Prime Minister John Key has faced a rocky start to his Northland by-election tour.

Key arrived in Dargaville just hours after touching down in Auckland from Japan. But within minutes of hitting the streets in Dargaville, Key was confronted by locals complaining about issues including local court services.

Reasons For The Loyalty Shift:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his New Zealand counterpart, John Key. Image Japan Times.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his New Zealand counterpart, John Key. Image Japan Times.

The reasons for the shift in loyalties has National’s “conservative rump” angry.

For years, big local issues have been either ignored or treated as trivial or low priority.

One National Party insider told me Joyce’s strategies underscore the perception of arrogance displayed by National MPs.

He said Joyce’s strategies are failing. Primary among the failures was to send urban campaigners to an estranged rural seat: “That was foolish. That tactic looked sure to inspire a solid turnout of voters, but few of them will be voting National,” he said.

He added that Joyce’s decision to swamp Northland with suits and ministerial cars has become a metaphor for how distant the National Party leadership team has become from the real world.

Two weeks ago, a National Party contact said: “I suspect we are in a fairly poor state in Northland, it won’t be easily held, it could be very close or maybe even a loss.

“Steven Joyce has thrown everything into it, his ‘groupies’ Chris Bishop and Jo de Joux are running the show. If Winston wins it will create recriminations that will linger for a long time and damage the Prime Minister’s reputation. I suspect Willow-Jean Prime’s vote will collapse.”

Two weeks later that contact said: “The conservative rump in National is quite scornful of the party’s performance in Northland. This is the Joyce show. Grant McCallum, the board member who got stitched up in the selection is very bitter. He won’t be around for long.”

The comment speaks of political vendettas that have been dealt. During the candidate selection process prior to the 2014 General Election, Grant McCallum was believed by National insiders to have blocked candidates in the greater Auckland region who were loyal to Judith Collins and her faction.

McCullum’s power-base is Northland. And Collins loyalists bided their time and blocked him from getting his way during the National Party Northland candidacy selections. The most Machiavellian of them suggest a loss in Northland will diminish Steven Joyce’s power, create instability for the leader John Key, and demonstrate that they cannot control the party outside of Wellington.

In simple terms, National is demonstrating third term disconnect, division among its factions, and pomposity and arrogance – something the newly re-elected Prime Minister John Key warned his party about in his post-election speeches.

Another contact said on the weekend: “The campaign is going better now but two weeks ago it was mayhem. And ministerial limos racing Ministers around Northland doesn’t help.”

He added: “Cunning Winston has a big blue bus.”

He pointed out: “The Peters whanau is well respected there (in Northland). Its also married into the equally well respected Bruce Gregory whanau.”

And Labour’s more centrist leaning networks, who are loyal to Dover Samuels et al “will repay Winston for his endorsement of Kelvin Davis (Peters gave the nod to Davis in the latter stages of the 2014 Te Tai Tokerau General Election).

A Question of Values and Judgment:

The National Party insiders say there are “many questions” circulating among the Nats, including:
(a) John Key’s judgment and credibility after the 2014 win particularly his promotion of former MP Mike Sabin to chair the Law and Order Select Committee.
(b) Joyce’s “diabolical mismanagement of the Northland by-election campaign”.

Regarding Joyce: “There are really brutal comments flowing from some quarters.”

But the estrangement between John Key and significant power-brokers within the Party’s Auckland factions is surprising.

One contact said: “John Key’s judgment is now being questioned, specifically with Key giving Sabin a safe harbour (post election) and support for his 2014 selection… despite the swirl of rumour concerning those matters that are now subject to a police investigation and charges.”

He insisted: The Judith Collins/Maurice Williamson faction will be watching this.”

Accordingly, among the Auckland-based Nats, Collins and Williamson are both of a view that Key has become soft when handling politically delicate matters among those who remain loyal to him.

A week ago, one contact said: “This goes to judgment, and the PM’s judgment will cost him. New Zealand First will be empowered even if it loses.”

By Thursday (two days before polls close in on the by-election), the contact said: “The polls in Northland aren’t great. But National’s ground-game will suffer a shocking result.

Mark Osborne and family. Image courtesy of Young Nats.
Mark Osborne and family. Image courtesy of Young Nats.

“I still think the result will be relatively close, but the problem is the legacy of Sabin and the loss of trust. This goes back a long way and relates to 9th floor conduct, cynical party behaviour, the Joyce-approach to campaigns and the divisions within the party.

“The basic problem is the party has taken a pounding over Sabin and years of neglect in Northland,” he said.

He hopes “the ground-game” will keep the result a bit tighter for National. But he adds: “Winston and Andrew Little have out-foxed Joyce.” And that fact, irrespective of who wins on Saturday night spells a LOSS in capital letters for Steven Joyce and John Key.

See Also:

State Of It: Politics, Yes. Leadership, Yes. But Does NZ First Have the Infrastructure to Become the Rural Bloc Option?

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The sad thing about Northland is that it’s a victory for a nationalist part of the right. It’s a loss for the official left when Northland should be a natural constituency for them after years of neglect. Labour is weak and it’s their own fault.

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