But Todd Muller affirms his mettle as Leader
Wellington, July 9, 2020
There can be few more spectacular political own goals than that just scored against the National Party by first-term Clutha-Southland MP, Hamish Walker this week.
The consequences for Walker personally, and his eminence grise Michelle Boag have been grim and dire, but the incident is potentially catastrophic for the National Party, just over ten weeks away from the general election.
Not good news
Not only will things drag on for a while, as the Herron inquiry, and a possible investigation by the Privacy Commissioner unfold, there is also the possibility of separate legal action arising from these investigations.
Then, there is the prospect of a hurried and intense candidate selection process as for the second time in three years the National Party looks to find a suitable candidate to take over what has always been one of its safest electorates. None of this is likely to be good news for the National Party.
It all makes the Jami-Lee Ross saga of last year look like a distant storm in a teacup. That matter is now before the High Court and the National Party will be relieved that a trial date has been set for September next year, so sparing it from any further embarrassing revelations on that score before the election. Winston Peters may be even be breathing a sigh of relief too that any detrimental finding by the Serious Fraud Office in its inquiry into the New Zealand First Foundation may not now look as bad.
Impossibly bad situation
National leader Todd Muller seems to have been blindsided by the whole Walker affair, although some are trying to draw links between Boag and Muller, given the assistance she apparently provided during his campaign for the National Party leadership. However, he seems determined to try and make the best of what is an almost impossibly bad situation.
His initial response to Walker’s admission was considered by some to be too bland – a mere expression of disappointment – although we now know that was as much a consequence of the legal actions already being undertaken by lawyers acting on Walker’s behalf.
But the decisiveness of his subsequent actions – stripping Walker of all his Caucus responsibilities and asking the Party’s governing board to expel him altogether from the Party – will have taken his critics by surprise. Walker’s recognition that his political career was over and that he should best stand down was no less swift.
Much needed ruthlessness
Muller has always insisted that his mild demeanour should not be mistaken for a lack of political steel or the ruthlessness need to be an effective political leader.
But it is one thing to say these things about one’s self and then have them believed by a normally sceptical public, but something else altogether to be able to demonstrate them. Unwelcome and annoying as the incident undoubtedly is for Muller, its circumstances have allowed him to show the decisiveness and ruthlessness he has said he possesses.
Walker’s rapid journey to oblivion will have been met with approval by his angry Caucus colleagues, perhaps fearing that their own prospects of holding their own seats at the election, let alone being able to form a government, will be rapidly disappearing with him.
At the same time, they will have also taken on board the message that Muller is not to be trifled with, and that he will not tolerate disloyal or dishonourable actions by his MPs.
Peter Dunne was a Minister of the Crown under the National and Labour-led governments from November 1999 to September 2017. He lives in Wellington.