National Party Board – The Contenders

Given that National is looking at its National Conference in August to select members for the board and in turn those members select a president I think it is timely to look at the 8 candidates for the 5 board positions.

Alastair Bell – popular and competent regional chair of the Northern Region, likely to be president one day, rated by other regional chairs and party hierarchy for not making too many mistakes in Northern, especially when considering regional chairs are a bit like referees, if they do their job well you don’t notice them. Interesting he won nominations of electorates ahead of Scott Simpson and Grant McCallum. There is a strong case to have the Auckland Regional Chair on the Board automatically due to the huge importance of Auckland. He also appears to be well-liked outside of Auckland so that will certainly help him.

Dennis Catchpole – very much old school, and in a way that is detrimental. He is bullish which could be a strength however he tends to alienate members in the process. He also has trouble listening vs putting across his own agenda. Failed to shine at the recent Central North Island conference so was beaten to the regional chair position.

Wira Gardiner – As I have stated previously, this man is totally unsuited to a role on the board or the presidency. He is your classic fair weather friend and has been so on numerous occasions. Throwing your toys and having conflicts of interest aren’t a good look for any prospective board member let alone the President. The National Party has traditionally eschewed Presidents considered to have close links with caucus preferring instead to have an arms length relationship between the party and caucus.

Kate Hazlett – Somewhat lightweight but is only candidate from South Island and a woman so likely to get through. Has a tendency toward moderation or backing down rather than staying true to her own case.

Grant McCallum – Currently on the Board. Solid performer. He has the farmer vote but also has the respect of many urban types. He appears to understand how a Board should and does work. Members seem to like him as he does front up when asked. Not a contender for President though as he is perhaps a little too provincial.

Bruce Mills – Solid agrarian type who may suffer because NZ is no longer an agrarian population. Close to Simon Power, which won’t necessarily do him too many favours as Simon hasn’t done the hard yards in the rest of the country to have a huge amount of support or friends he can get favours from. Also handicapped by Simon Power’s presumption of stardom.

Pat Seymour – Tough and competent, will stand up to caucus would be a huge asset to the board, also second woman standing so likely to be selected on that basis as well. She is well-respected though has a tendency to put some members to tears. She has served in most parts of the party organisation so has a good feel how it works – plus kept the organisation running successfully in an electorate that had no MP for a number of years.

Scott Simpson – Good Regional Chair in his time but he wont be picking up many South Island votes as he has been a bit too parochial in the past, backing Auckland candidates to the hilt, rather than being willing to compromise a bit. We do have to win in Auckland but we don’t need to gerrymander the list. Still he is way more qualified than Wira Gardiner and a loyal party man who has never quit even in the tough times. Scott also has an affinity with younger members (despite his age) and has the future of the party t heart (ahead of personal ambition).

Returning Board members are Roger Bridge and Peter Goodfellow.

Roger Bridge has done a good job in Canterbury, and may surprise because he has a track record of helping raise money for candidates outside his region, the kind of thing that ensures massive long term loyalty. Very solid strategic understanding. However, he does have a tendency to fall asleep in meetings!

I don’t know enough about Peter Goodfellow to comment, however it suggests a great deal that I don’t know anything about him.

The most important task for the new board is to elect a competent president. I think we can safely discount anyone not on the board at the moment, and leaving Grant, Scott, Roger & Peter, with Alistair being an outside possibility.

My view on it is:

  • must be willing to professionalise the party, which means a solid understanding of campaigning, the power of incumbency, the best way to increase the party vote is to run a strong, competent candidate who has a great campaign team
  • need to raise money, or be sensible enough to delegate this task to others
  • popular within the party
  • willing to stand up to the parliamentary wing and tell them the truth when everyone else is saying yes caucus you are all stars and brilliant and everyone does love you

There is also a lot of chatter about how we need a president from Auckland, however geographical location is not a proxy for competence, and last time we had a president from Auckland it was a total screw up, we ended up in massive debt and with the worst ever election result in the history of the party.

I reckon the biggest single problem the National Party faces is that the President, who is the chair of the board, is expected to be the top sales person also, raising all the money. In theory this works but in practice unless the person is extremely competent at fundraising then it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t work because the rest of the board can’t really hold the chair to account for not doing a good sales job, and the general manager certainly can’t as they are employed at the pleasure of the board.

Fundraising is a critical component that the party really needs to have a good look at. Perhaps a split in fundraising between strategic fundraising and standard fundraising could produce some results. There is strong case that a good portion of fundraising activity reports directly to the GM, who is accountable to the board. However an attempt was made to do this previously and failed miserably, mostly because people want the interaction with the President.