Opinion: National blues – a recurring theme

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The National spectacle is more dramatic than an episode of Shortland Street with more unexpected twists than Police Ten 7. The team of five million has certainly been entertained by the catastrophe of National’s election campaign blues.

In the past month the party has been in hot water for leaking important information, experienced at least two unexpected resignations and played Where’s Wally? with their Māori members.

Hamish Walker

Clutha-Southland National MP Hamish Walker has resigned, which hardly surprises. The news followed an admission by the MP that he leaked private details of 18 patients who tested positive for Covid-19. He apologised - but said he was just trying to ''expose the government's shortcomings so they would be rectified.”

Later he was criticised for being racist after releasing a statement that up to 11,000 people from “India, Pakistan and Korea” could be destined for quarantine in Dunedin, Invercargill, and Queenstown.

Indian and Korean community groups are now calling for an apology and wrote him a letter saying, “Such scaremongering comments only fuel the racist sentiments and divide the communities. Please take responsibility and apologise.”

A petition was also created and has reached 18,000 signatories calling for the struggling MP to apologise.

Michelle Boag

This latest party disaster began with an admission by former National president and PR maven Michelle Boag that she passed the material to the MP.

Boag says she received the information via her personal email. But she was at the time acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, which deals with confidential information about patients it transports. So she had to hastily quit, along with her campaign chair job for Nikki Kaye in the Auckland Central electorate. Which is not to mention the previous scandals she has been involved in.

Boag's most controversial role was as National Party president in the run-up to the 2002 general election where she vowed to clean out MPs she regarded as "deadwood." That led to Bill English's first go at the leadership though he was later deposed in a coup by John Key.

But Boag earlier misled the Davison inquiry when she arranged secret filming of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' evidence to the Winebox inquiry in 1996 in her role as communications director for Sir Michael's merchant bank, Fay Richwhite, and she was also involved in the Saudi sheep scandal.

And then there was the time she used a rescue helicopter to fetch her passport from Waiheke Island and deliver it to her at Auckland International Airport.

Nikki Kaye

It was a bad week - the worst since two weeks ago when Nikki Kaye's bizarrre 'Māori MP' front bench bombshell moment.  It was Kaye's response to media’s questioning of the absence of Māori in the front bench. When questioned, National’s No 2 quickly responded to the media, claiming the Epsom-based MP was of Ngāti Porou descent. Then, of course, we all witnessed the uproar when Goldsmith said that he was not in fact of Māori descent.

This ‘mishap’ was catastrophic and Team Blue felt the sting of Shane Jones’ quick wit, calling Goldsmith “Ngāti Epsom.” Speaker Trevor Mallard made him apologise for that one. But that was after the whirlwind of media that saw the last week of May as one of the worst weeks in National’s runup to the election.

We have been here before with the crew in blue: from the Jamie Lee Ross expenses leak that rushed the National party through a three-month-long rollercoaster ride from hell to the accusation that Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett might have leaked New Zealand First Leader Winston Peter's private information to the media. Although Peters accepted that it wasn't the National MPs who did it, it's safe to say Team Blue is no stranger to drama that comes with leaks.

Speaking of Peters, this would usually be the cue for the seasoned politician to dig into the opposition but the silver fox of politics has had to take unexpected leave for surgery. To be fair, it is a pretty sickening situation. 

Leader ‘weak’

And, as if the leak saga wasn't bad enough, the new National leader, Todd Muller, has been accused of being weak for not stepping up earlier, especially after National heavily criticised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for showing lenience to then health minister David Clark's lockdown excursions.

Let's just say the party is in the usual pre-election mess.

I'm interested to see how Team Blue is going to make a comeback after this one. Accusations of leaks are bad but the admission of leaked information concerning the public information is inexcusable.

Will National survive yet another blow? Will it have a fighting chance this election?

Are the 10 weeks till Election Day enough to save the drowning right-wing party? Well, the polls suggest otherwise. But who knows? In the game of politics there is generally more than one loser. September 19 will tell us who the biggest loser will be.

Rukuwai Allen is a Te Ao Maori News reporter, who is moving to Wellington to take a deep dive into politics.