MITCH HARRIS: Three-time loser

Opinion 25/10/2017

MITCH HARRIS: Three-time loser 

Conventional wisdom is for Bill English to stay on as National leader, keep the party focused and anoint the next generation. Do what Helen Clark failed to do after she lost office and shot through like a Bondi tram. Labour spent nine years trying to find the right leader until Jacinda Ardern was thrust into the job out of sheer desperation.

Ideally, English would hang in for another year and get rid of the old guard, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Nick Smith, Gerry Brownlee and Amy Adams. He would then step down and make way for someone like Nikki Kaye, or dare I say it, that old man before his time, Simon Bridges. It is actually hard to decide whether Bridges is old guard or new generation.

Already, the narrative is starting to shift. The “rock star” economy is starting to look like an illusion created by mass immigration. More population growth than economic growth.  

I cannot remember an election of such sore losers. National celebrated on the night as if the negotiations were a foregone conclusion, and then its friends and proxies cried foul claiming that the democratic process had been subverted. Some normalcy has started to return with the realisation that the dire warnings of economic Armageddon are not likely to eventuate. In fact, the new Government’s announcements so far are exciting and much needed. National people could just be waking up to the idea that the coalition’s policies might prove popular.

We heard this morning that Steven Joyce had identified another “fiscal hole” - this time a four billion one. It sounded depressingly familiar. As the national reconstruction programme starts to wind up, the old guard will look increasingly irrelevant.  

Which is why Bill English’s announcement that he intends to lead National into the next election is likely to doom National to at least two terms in opposition. They are unlikely to come up with new ideas and fresh appeal, and the fiction that they are the natural stewards of the economy will be further tarnished. Imagine when the first young people move into their new affordable homes. Nick Smith’s dismal failure on housing will be in stark contrast.

It is best for English to stay on and manage the transition. But like so many of his ilk, he believes he is indispensible and wants to fight the next election.

He will go down in history as the man who lost three elections.

Mitch Harris hosts Night Talk, 8pm-midnight Monday to Thursday on RadioLIVE.