#Opinion: Can the doctor save a party on life support ?

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

National is wounded and hurting after internal struggles and division this week. Leader Judith Collins lost her job in a brutal rush but it had only been a matter of time before it happened.

The Nats will now be looking at giving themselves the best chance to rebuild as they head for the 2023 elections. The money's on the Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis combo but there could be the outspoken Covid response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, or even Mark Mitchell who put his hand up once before putting it down and, of course, Simon Bridges who had the spot for two years and got rolled by Todd Muller who lasted barely two months. 

All eyes will be looking at them. People might, however, need to look to the North, to the man tasked with holding the party together for the next four days, Dr Shane Reti. 

Social media points to Reti

The National Party is at war within its own ranks and every battle needs a paramedic. The rise of Reti came as no surprise. The doctor was a clear choice as No. 2, being the only health professional in the caucus during a global pandemic is significant especially when it's going up against a majority government. 

We asked commenters on our Te Ao Facebook page if Reti should stay on as leader of the National Party and 60% said yes. 

GPs'  job is to treat acute and chronic illnesses and provide preventive care and health education. One thing for sure here is that National MPs are acutely aware of their chronic issues and need a person to help prevent them from recurring - and a little education never hurt anybody. 

A party on life support 

While he doesn't come with quirky oneliners, raised eyebrows, or a big Twitter following, Reti is considered and calm, a calm that's necessary for the war that is National's internal politics. Shane Reti was the first Māori to claim the Whangarei seat (although washed away in the red tidal wave that wiped out the 2020 elections). Reti is hard to frazzle, he's likable, his patients find him trustworthy, and his colleagues actually like him - something that seems to be a rarity in the party. 

The party has been on life support for a while. In the past 18 months, the party has seen the rise and fall of Todd Muller, the Hamish Walker leak and resignation, and Judith Collins finally getting her long-awaited time in the spotlight. Her reign was then clouded by the infamous "My husband is Samoan, so talofa" moment, Paul Goldsmith saying that on balance colonisation was a good thing, the racist backlash over the He Puapua discussion paper, and most recently supporting a farmers protest that had racist messages, signs and banners - this is a small screenshot into the 16 months that was Judith Collins - and every step of the way Bridges has been on her tail. 

I wish I could say there was more to her leadership than strange lines and odd comments to reporters but there really wasn't. Collins was sent in to clean up and, if Bridges was the mess that needed sweeping away, she may or may not have finished the job. 

My diagnosis is the party now requires a steady pair of hands and the Doc has them. In fact they're so steady he's been using them to vaccinate people across the Northland region.  He has been vaccinating, testing, and informing people across Te Tai Tokerau for months. If his loyalty to the party and Judith isn't enough, his integrity showed through today, and if on Tuesday that isn't enough to put the reigns into some of the country's most trusted hands then maybe it'll be enough for him to win back Whangarei.