25 February 2018
The National party should have been in government after the 2017 election. They had the most votes by a long shot. But they fought a first-past-the-post campaign. It was 21 years out of date. They don’t have any friends. It’s no longer enough to just worry about getting themselves across the line. They’d like to be alone in government but it seems to have escaped the strategists that MMP delivers coalition governments. If ever there was an election that shows this, it was the 2017 election. So, until there is an understanding throughout the National party of the importance of playing the MMP game they are destined to be on the opposition benches.
Next Tuesday the National party caucus has the chance to rectify this sorry state of affairs. In this leadership battle one criteria stands out well ahead of all others to me. If I was eligible I would vote for the candidate who best understands MMP and is capable of cultivating strong working partnerships with like minded politicians outside of National.
The five contenders for the National Party leadership are all very able in their own way. Generational change, rural-urban appeal, strong in the debating chamber and at holding the government to account and proven leadership skills elsewhere are all virtues that have all been touted by the various candidates as reasons for support. No doubt these attributes are being picked over and tossed around by the National party caucus as they prepare for the vote next Tuesday. But I think they’re overlooking the obvious.
None of the five candidates is talking about the real problem – that of having no friends now, and having none in the wings. Not since 1951 has one party, under either of our voting systems, won more than 50% of the votes. No-one to work with means opposition benches under MMP.
If the National party really wants power again, the MPs need to vote next week for the leader who is committed to MMP and embraces working with others. The problem is none of the five candidates are campaigning on this issue. Until someone does maybe National just isn’t deserving of power.
Political party leadership battles are always fraught. Even when a leader steps down voluntarily, if there is more than one contender the inevitable happens – camps form, allegiances develop, deals are made. It takes an extraordinary person to be able to bring all groups together again without resentments lingering once they’ve been declared the winner. A politician worthy of leadership is one who can bring people together, either within a party or to produce a government. Same thing.