On Monday 18 May 2020 a poll was released which sounded the death knell of Simon Bridges time at the helm of the National Party. It had National on an abysmal 30.6%, which would have given it only 37 seats in a House of 120 Members of Parliament. The same poll had Labour on a whopping 59%, which would have given it a majority not seen in Parliament since Mixed Member Proportional voting was established in New Zealand.
By the end of the week, Mr Bridges was gone. No one knows how comfortably the previously almost completely unknown Todd Michael Muller rolled Mr Bridges in the leadership vote, but the latter was gracious in defeat. Mr Muller was equally magnanimous in victory.
When he had his post-coup press conference, Mr Muller presented the most senior members of his new line up. Gone was Paula Bennett, who had been Deputy Leader. Shadow Treasurer Paul Goldsmith had kept hold of the Treasury, whilst the machiavellian Judith Collins is likely to hold a significant post such as Justice. Gerry Brownlee, Member for Ilam had
Mr Muller faces several challenges, and he has just under four months to address them.
Probably the most important is New Zealanders want their economy moving again, without a doubt, but they also want to know that National will pay due attention to environmental, housing, social welfare and crime. They want to know that the old “get rid of the R.M.A.” will not be core environmental policy; that housing will become affordable again for the average Jim and Jane; that the crime and the poverty often behind it will be addressed. The COVID19 pandemic might have been a black time for the New Zealand economy and there is no doubt that a lot of people have been hurt by it, but New Zealand has an unprecedented chance to shape the post-COVID economy in a way that will be beneficial for generations to come.
The second one is his team. There are Members of Parliament in National that have been around a long time, like David Carter, Gerry Brownlee, Nick Smith, in addition to a bunch of M.P.’s who were Ministers under former Prime Minister John Key and Bill English. They are showing their age now. Former National Party President Michelle Boag once suggested a term that has become synonomous with M.P.’s who are past their best, but not wanting to leave Parliament: dead wood and in this category, one could include Anne Tolley, Paula Bennett. With a team of 55 other Members of Parliament to work with, Mr Muller has significant options, such as Chris Bishop
The third is New Zealand. With an immensely popular Prime Minister in charge and – despite the likes of David Clark and Phil Twyford putting their incompetence on display – several competent Ministers such as Andrew Little (Education), Ron Mark (Defence), Grant Robertson (Treasurer), and James Shaw (Climate Change), only a monumental mistake is likely to prevent Jacinda Ardern from being a two-term Prime leader of New Zealand.
It is the early days of Mr Muller’s leadership of the National Party and no doubt he has ideas of his own about what New Zealand should look like. But before then he needs to establish himself as leader, make peace with or send to the back bench those that are not on board. That is a lot to do in four months.