All Smiles - For Now:A victory for the moderate Amy Adams will not sit well with the National Party rank-and-file who, pretty obviously, favour the more right-wing Judith Collins for the role of Opposition leader. Moreover, the longer the race continues, the more pressure Collins’ rank-and-file supporters will be able to apply to their local and/or List MPs to give her their support.
IN THE RACE FOR OPPOSITION LEADER, the numbers are solidifying around Amy Adams. A consensus is forming among the journalists of the Parliamentary Press Gallery that Adams, with 20 votes, is at least 2 or 3 votes ahead of her nearest rival, Simon Bridges. The moment Adams assures the National Party Board that she has no intention of dispensing with the services of National’s chief strategist, Steven Joyce, her lead will advance by at least 4 votes. At that point, Adams will be only 4 or 5 votes shy of the 29 votes she needs to become Leader of the Opposition. If Mark Mitchell can be enticed into Adams’ camp (with the offer of the Deputy’s spot, perhaps?) then it will require only 1 further defection from either Team Bridges or Team Collins for the game to be over.
A victory for Adams will not sit well with the National Party rank-and-file who, pretty obviously, favour Judith Collins for the role of Opposition leader. Moreover, the longer the race continues, the more pressure Collins’ rank-and-file supporters will be able to apply to their local and/or List MPs to give her their support.
Team Collins’ argument that only their candidate has the strength and decisiveness to keep National polling in the mid-40s is already beginning to tell with those MPs positioned at the bottom of National’s Party List contingent. Indeed, some have already moved quietly to join Collins’ very small band of supporters – just 4 to 7 strong at this stage.
From the vantage points of both Adams and the National Board, it therefore makes sense to hold the Leadership ballot as soon as possible.
The less time Team Collins has to raise a clamour from the membership for their candidate’s election, the easier it will be for Team Adams to nibble away at the edges of Bridges’ support.
The Board, meanwhile, has every reason to fear that Collins’ efforts to rouse the membership could very easily set the National Party up for exactly the same “Us” versus “Them” struggle that tore the Labour Party apart between 2011 and 2013. (That was the fight which erupted after Labour’s parliamentary caucus imposed a leader on the wider party organisation that it clearly did not want.) A swift and decisive victory by Adams would, from the Board’s point of view, be less likely to provoke such a debilitating outcome.
The pressure is, therefore, on Adams to accede quickly to Joyce’s and Mitchell’s demands, so that, having pocketed their votes, she can commence the deal-making required to deflate Bridge’s numbers.
This is the point at which Bridges would be well advised to secure what he can from his position (a place in Adam’s “Kitchen Cabinet”, perhaps?) by magnanimously marching as many of his followers as possible into her camp and, figuratively, crowning her National’s Queen before the smoke of battle has had time to clear. The title of “Queenmaker” is not one to be discarded lightly!
With the serried ranks of the now largely unified National Caucus arrayed against her, Collins could elect to either fight it out to the bitter end, or, to lower her banners and join in Adams’ victory feast.
That meal need not taste too bitter in Collins mouth. After all, a victory for Adams can only be interpreted as a victory for the Key-English status-quo. Collins and her followers, convinced as they are that, ideologically-speaking, that status-quo has positioned National well to the left of where its members and voters believe it should be, need only wait for the polls to register conservative New Zealand’s disappointment at the National caucus’s failure to elect their champion. When that happens, Team Collins’ banners can, once again, be unfurled; and the battle for the heart and soul of the National Party can recommence – minus Amy Adams.
UPDATE: This morning (20/2/18) Steven Joyce further complicated National’s leadership contest by announcing his own candidacy for the top job. Clearly, the contest is now set to run until Tuesday 27 February. Team Collins will, therefore, re-double its efforts to mobilise the National Party rank-and-file in her support. Also stepping-up their effort will be National’s Board. It is now absolutely imperative that the two front-runners – Amy Adams and Simon Bridges – strike a deal. With Labour at its highest poll-rating in 15 years, the last thing National needs is a divided Opposition caucus.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 20 February 2018.