Some initial thoughts on New Zealand First

For the past three years many pundits broke one of the cardinal rules of New Zealand pundits: never write off Winston.

And he’s back. With seven other MPs. There is much that could be said about some of them, but I’m going to leave that for others. One thing we do know is that Cameron Slater’s unhealthy obsession with former North Shore City mayor Andrew Williams is about to go up a notch.

Firstly: what happened? NZ First had been hovering on about 2-4% for months. Without more in depth research it’s hard to say what that was, but my gut instinct was this is Winston’s base. His fan club. He didn’t run a particularly strong campaign (they only launched their website three days before the election), but that’s not surprising given the state of the party. But then Winston got lucky. As the Key/Banks teapot scandal got legs, it gave Winston oxygen. Suddenly he was on the front page of the paper sticking up for himself and his supporters – and it worked.

6.8% is a brilliant result for NZ First, and I’m sure they are very proud.

They now have eight MPs, six of which are totally new to Parliament. It has left the party in a somewhat awkward position, they do have a number of issues they need to get to grips with, and fast…

  • Their caucus. There are a number of highly unknowns in their caucus, and it’s screaming out for scandal. They need to nail these people down, and quickly. That said, it’s also vital that they move beyond being the Winston Show and let the caucus develop as Parliamentarians in their own right. It’s going to be a tough balancing act.
  • Renewal. Winston is not getting any younger. From what we’re hearing in the media, it sounds like Ron Mark is the front runner in the race to replace him – the big problem being he isn’t in Parliament any more. They need to continue to attract new talent, had build a solid succession strategy. I think they can do it.
  • Staffing. From what I’ve heard, Winston had a pretty good team around him until 2008. It’s yet to be seen if any of them will return, or what new talent he can attract.
  • Establishing their message. I actually think they’ve found a sweet spot. Sitting on the cross-benches sniping at a vulnerable PM and leader of the opposition will give him media time and recognition. But it’s hard to see them growing their support unless they are able to articulate their own vision for New Zealand. I’m sure this will be grounded in economic nationalism – it’s going to be interesting to see how that develops.

S0 there are some initial thoughts on where New Zealand First are at, and what they need to do. Nothing particularly ground breaking, but I’m sure they’re going to spend the summer celebrating anyway.