Lloyd Burr: Is NZ First manufacturing a deputy leadership stoush?

OPINION: I've covered several leadership coups over the years at Parliament. They're intense and serious affairs, and the stakes are always high.  

Egos are busted, dreams are broken and careers are finished. There's no clowning around, because it's people lives and jobs on the line. 

Which is why I'm of the belief that New Zealand First isn't in the midst of a leadership coup and isn't about to roll deputy Ron Mark. 

In my view, it's all part of a strategy to get in the limelight, create doubt and overshadow National's leadership fight. 

Then they will the attack the media when Mark is re-elected, shouting from the rooftop about New Zealand First's stability and unity. 

The party planted a seed of doubt about Mark's future on Tuesday with an email that read: "The Deputy Leader's selection will be held at the next caucus." 

As you would expect, that seed sprouted into stake-outs, questions, speculation and predictions by journalists - including myself. 

I chased after MPs and asked them who they were backing. Other reporters did the same. 

Some even went as far as suggesting Fletcher Tabuteau was planning to overthrow Mark, not heir apparent Shane Jones. 

But something doesn't feel quite right - the vibe is wrong. There isn't an uprising in the air. 

The MPs are being insincere and their answers aren't convincing. 

It's not intense, serious nor high-stakes. It feels manufactured and it feels like we're all being played for fools.

They could easily quash the rumours by saying they're backing Mark. 

Or they could have just had the deputy vote on Tuesday this week, when they voted on the leader.  

Instead, they are playing games, while taxpayers pay their salaries. 

Tabuteau is walking around like the cat that got the cream, fuelling the speculation with cheeky variations of "no comment". 

Mark isn't rattled at the fact we're asking questions about the job he loves, the job he got from rolling Tracey Martin. 

I've seen an angry, threatened Ron Mark before, but not this week. This week, he's smiling and his eyes are glistening.

Winston Peters isn't flustered. He's saying the vote will be "a picture of serenity and tranquility". 

If it was game on, he'd be attacking journalists left, right, and centre. But he isn't. 

Martin gave a cheery "now that would be telling" when asked if she's standing, but without an ounce of revenge or satisfaction in her tone that would suggest Mark is on the way out.  

New MP Jenny Marcroft is a former broadcaster and knows how to fuel speculation. She's spouting "no comment" like it's the only thing on her autocue. 

It's too rosy, too happy, too bloodless to be true. 

But of course, I could be proven wrong on Tuesday. 

Lloyd Burr is a Newshub political reporter.

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