State of the Parties: National Party report card

OPINION: Newshub's politics team has taken a good hard look at New Zealand's political parties and ranked them in key areas.

Here's Lloyd Burr's take on the National Party.

Leadership: A-

Up until the abomination that was Bill English's handling of the Todd Barclay scandal, leadership was a real strength for National.

No other party in Parliament, with the exception of New Zealand First (Winston Peters) and United Future (Peter Dunne), has had such stable leadership as National.

John Key can claim almost all of the credit here, but his right-hand-man-turned-successor Bill English deserves some too.

Key led the party for 10 years and in that time Labour went through five leaders, the Greens have had four different co-leaders, the Māori Party similarly had four, and ACT has had five. It's still too early to tell if Bill English's tenure as National leader will be as successful as Key's, or if it will be 2002 déjà vu where National's party vote dropped to 21 percent - its lowest ever.

Early observations show Bill English isn't as boring as first thought. He's witty, funny and is teaching himself how to speak te reo Māori. But he loses any bonus points due to the Barclay debacle. Leadership still strong though.

Policies: C-

National's got a vast manifesto of policies, many of which will never see the light of day (like its policy to abolish all seven Māori seats). When trying to remember some of its core policies, you can draw a blank: what are they? What does the party stand for these days? Tax cuts? Immigration? Economy? Personal responsibility?

The party is incredibly vulnerable in some key policy areas: housing, mental health, immigration, police funding, water bottling royalties or lack of... the list goes on.

This year it has released just two major policies - a catch-up increase in police numbers and the Budget cash bribe. Yes, the cash bribe nailed it, but is raining cash really a policy?

There is also “social investment” - but how many punters actually understand what that is? Its new slogan “Delivering for all New Zealanders” might be catchy, but what exactly is it delivering? National is so pragmatic that it is more about slogans than policies these days - that is probably deliberate. Still, on the policy front it is a fail.

State of the Parties: National Party report card
Photo credit: Newshub

Fresh Face Factor: B+

National has done better than all other parties at revitalising its lineup with fresh faces.

Under John Key - and to some degree Bill English - the pre-election rejuvenation and culling of dead wood has been ruthless, with older or underperforming MPs told in no uncertain terms to leave. It has allowed an influx of fresh faces, which has allowed National to avoid looking stale and continue to look like a new, edgy Government. That is usually impossible but they have done it with aplomb. The rise of not just English, but of Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce, Simon Bridges, Amy Adams and Jonathan Coleman has given the party a new look, feel and drive at the top.

But it's not all good - it was one of these fresh faces that caused National's biggest scandal this year, in the form of Todd Barclay. His fresh face factor quickly turned into a get-him-the-hell-out-of-the-party factor. It's a perfect reminder that while there is a need for fresh, new candidates, it's not a good idea to get ones which have such limited life experience and with no skills to manage staff.

State of the Parties: National Party report card
Photo credit: Facebook/ Bill English

Vibe: F

The vibe over the last few weeks has been more bitter than eating raw coffee beans.

The party prides itself on discipline and staying on track and has done a great job at this for the last 10 years, but the Barclay scandal has seen that discipline evaporate.The party, its staff and supporters have become hyper-sensitive to even the smallest criticisms.

From the Prime Minister down, they have not wanted to be upfront and honest with the public. Where is the honesty and humility? It looks and feels as if they are hiding things.

It seems National's shed its impregnable thick skin and replaced it with a thin layer of gladwrap. It has forgotten how to deal with a public scandal and could learn a few things from Labour, which just deals with it and moves on. National's vibe can be summed up in one word - arrogant. If that seeps out to voters it could wreck its election result.

Bill English and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett.
Bill English and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett. Photo credit: Getty

Election Outlook: B

Despite being the biggest voting bloc, the election outlook for National relies entirely on its current minor party partners.

If these minor parties get voted out (a real possibility for Peter Dunne), or reduce their number of seats, then National will be in trouble. And that's where Winston Peters comes in.

Bill English should be stocking his office liquor cabinet with single malt scotch in anticipation that Winston might be spending a lot of time there following the election. And if the next National government is propped up by New Zealand First, its prognosis isn't good. Look at 1996: disaster. Look at 2005-8: disaster.

National needs to bring home an almighty strong party vote and help its current small suckerfish parties if it wants to avoid a lengthy and tense negotiation with Peters.

They might be odds-on for power - but what price will they pay?

Lloyd Burr is a political reporter for Newshub.