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Claire Trevett: National Party’s review a double-edged sword

3 min read

OPINION:

The National Party’s determination to keep the juicy bits of the review into its abysmal election result secret has led it to Harry Potter lengths.

MPs can enter the Room of Secrets, in an undisclosed location in Parliament, to read the report.

They cannot take phones or other communication devices into the room.

Presumably the Obliviate (forgetfulness spell) is then cast upon them before they exit again.

This is all done in a bid to prevent leaks of the contents of the report.

The irony of the party being fearful of leaks of a report which has blamed leaks for the party’s woes is not missed.

The trouble is that it may well only serve to result in selective leaks without the necessary context, as those who read the report whisper the choicest bits to others.

It is little wonder the party is paranoid about the contents revealing themselves publicly.

Such reviews serve a use if done well. However, they are double-edged.

The findings of the report will inevitably re-ignite woes and grievances as the party goes through its purgative processes. Blame is inevitable: and calls for people to be held to account.

Simply chronicling the grievances and horrors of the last year is something of an exercise in the obvious.

In trying to downplay interest in the report, it has not helped that both president Peter Goodfellow and leader Judith Collins have dropped intriguing teasers about bad behaviour by some MPs, both past and present.

That will serve to ensure MPs who may otherwise have resisted reading the report in its full glory go to see it, purely to see if they are named as the badly behaved.

The good in such reports is in the less salacious bits: the recommendations for changes that may be sorely needed.

One of those on the panel was Judy Kirk, the respected former President who overhauled the party after its last disastrous result in 2002.

Kirk’s review resulted in a complete overhaul of the party’s structure and the board system it now uses.

The latest review will inevitably recommend changes to the board structure, but they are unlikely to be as sweeping as in 2002.

One is expected to put a time limit on how long someone can serve on the board.

The more important recommendations will be around the party’s selection processes.

In 2003, Kirk spoke to the National Party conference after her overhaul, and set out what needed to be done in the two years before the election.

The list remains the same today: build up the coffers, develop good policies, focus on the party vote (but don’t neglect the electorate votes) and find and train good candidates.

The party has had to confront how its selection processes resulted in such low diversity, and why some very high-quality candidates missed out while others of more middling merit made it in.

The party’s practice of ranking MP’s in supposedly “safe” seats well down the list has backfired on it.

It should also have looked at whether better vetting or support was needed to prevent the cases of MPs who end up going astray, – such as Jami-Lee Ross, Andrew Falloon and Hamish Walker.

The other big question is whether the review has suggested changes in the way National’s leader is selected.

That has long been solely the preserve of the party’s caucus, while other parties involve the membership to some extent. The party has baulked at this before, and Labour has delivered a relatively recent cautionary tale of letting the membership select a leader who was not popular in caucus: David Cunliffe.

However, there has been some talk about at least involving the board in leadership decisions in National.

Thus far, at least one former leader has been nonchalant about the review.

Simon Bridges was far more interested in talking about the Meghan and Harry interview than the National Party review when he headed into the caucus room on Tuesday morning.

He wandered off, saying he was an avid Royal watcher, and would have happily share his views on that interview but had little interest in talking about the National Party review.

We never did find out if he was Team Queen, or Team Meghan and Harry. But there are some parallels between the Royal family and the National Party: not least that both are rather dysfunctional families.

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