National Party election review revealed: 'Unrelenting focus', Māori representation, calling out bad behaviour and the 'Merv' rules

A stronger focus on Māori and diversity, fixing the problems that led to the Auckland Central shemozzle and changes to leadership processes - these are just a few of the recommendations from recent top-secret reviews into the National Party. 

Newshub has been leaked an abridged, sanitised version of National's election review, which was sent to party members on Tuesday night. It's an 18-page hodgepodge of recommendations from both the election review and a separate review led by former National Party leader Jim McLay into the party's structure and governance.

It covers everything from leadership to diversity, getting rid of dead wood on the board, 'Merv from Manurewa' and calling out bad behaviour. 

This report is a much shorter version of the full report with all the gory details taken out. National MPs were only allowed to read the original under lock and key for fear it would be leaked.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to say where things went wrong for National during the 2020 election, and a lot of this is operational, constitutional, governance stuff - but you definitely get a sense of the soul-searching and wound licking National is currently going through. 


The review summary saved this 'priority area' for the second-to-last page but I'd argue it's a strong contender for priority number one. 

"The (Election Review) Panel reported that strengthening leadership is a key task for the Party. Leadership at all levels of the Party needs to be considered to ensure adequate support and upskilling is available, and existing leaders set the right example."

Twelve recommendations were made. Members were treated to five 'Key Themes' which included:

  • Bad behaviour needs to be called out and dealt with quickly across the Party (presumably like the leak of Denise Lee's anti-leader letter to Newshub which Judith Collins said cost the party 5 percentage points on election night).
  • Succession planning needs to be encouraged.
  • The party leader process needs a rethink and to be entrenched in the party constitution.
Deputy leader Shane Reti and leader Judith Collins.
Deputy leader Shane Reti and leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub.


After an absolute shocker dealing with how white the party's front bench was, National's proposing changes that would increase diversity in the party and better reflect - or reflect at all - the Treaty of Waitangi. The election review panel recommended making Māori a priority area, which is why it announced National would be standing in the Māori seats. 

  • Appointing board members alongside elected board members to increase diversity and skills gaps eg. "should specific 'seats' be allocated based on representation, for example a Māori Directors' seat".
  • Embed the Treaty of Waitangi into the party's constitution. Te Tiriti is not currently included or referenced in the party constitution.
  • Stand in the Māori seats 


It's not just Māori voices the party is lacking. The review recommended the need for National to commit to diversity across all levels of the organisation. 

  • Rebuild a diverse, representative caucus.
  • Embed diversity across the party's membership, caucus, candidate and Board.
  • Develop a diversity plan to grow diverse talent.
  • Use the party list 'to bring in diverse, high-quality talent regardless of the election result'.
  • "The Party List needs to be used as a show piece - both in its announcement but also in its quality of candidates." (This is straight out of Labour's playbook.).

Auckland Central 

The Auckland Central race was one of the most magnificent debacles of National's campaign. A couple of recommendations aim to prevent it from happening again.

  • Remove regional or electorate officeholders  on matters of integrity and honesty. This could be called the 'Merv from Manurewa' rule after regional chair Roger Bridge pretended to be someone he wasn't to undermine a National Party candidate
  • Make candidate pre-selection requirements crystal clear. The party broke its own rules when selecting the candidates - choosing just two when it was supposed to pick five.
  • The party president and board members should not be allowed to sit on pre-selection committees or override the process.  At the time the party president said the process in Auckland Central had not been manipulated
  • A ban on regional chairs from sitting on boards and instead work closely with boards as operational heads. This could also be a 'Merv' thing but there have been allegations of interference by regional chairs that pre-dated his midnight phone call to talkback. 
  • Once confirmed in an electorate candidates can't have a crack at another electorate if a safer seat comes up. The candidate 'Merv' was trying to undermine was Nuwanthie Samarakone - she was the Manurewa candidate, but went on to try to get the better seat for National, Auckland Central.
Nikki Kaye standing down in 2020 led to a contest in Auckland Central.
Nikki Kaye standing down in 2020 led to a contest in Auckland Central. Photo credit: Newshub.


Talking about leaks, obesity and praying were not key to the National Party's election messaging strategy. Party leader Judith Collins has talked a lot about not being distracted this term. These recommendations explain why:

  • National needs to convey a clear alternative vision for NZ.
  • Get websites and apps 'up to scratch'.
  • Build an 'unrelenting focus' on the party in everything it does.
  • The need for a 'digital go-forward strategy'.
  • "Increase capability and capacity in social media and digital technologies either internally or by 'buying it in."


Don't leak probably should have been the number one recommendation relating to caucus but the party missed a trick. Here they are:

  • Better relationship between the caucus and the party proper by entrenching the senior whip on the board.
  • The whip to be elected by the caucus, not just the leaders.
  • Greater involvement of the board in future leadership bids, aka coups - at the moment the board plays a fairly symbolic role of appointing the leader once chosen by caucus - this change would mean it's more involved from the beginning

Worth also noting for the caucus that under the seven key focus areas below, 'party vote emphasis' is a priority. Newshub was told during the campaign that when the party numbers started looking dire electorate candidates started campaigning harder for their electorate vote in a bid to win. Fighting that was a better shot than getting in on a high party vote.

The board 

Getting rid of dead wood, not clashing with elections and better processes when it comes to electing the party president. The recommendations include:

  • change Board term from two years to three 
  • a maximum term for individual board members. There are currently no term limits for board members. Nine or 12 year term limits are being considered for individual members if the wider board term is extended to three years 
  • ditch board elections in election year 
  • more transparency around the election of the party president.

Better talent 

The party is diminished in Parliament. For a chance to come back it needs top talent. The election review made a bunch of recommendations along these lines: 

  • 'move to proactive and professional candidate recruitment to secure top-tier talent' 
  • rebuild the Candidates College to train that talent.

Seven focus areas

No political party worth its salt sallies forth without 'focus areas'. These are National's (no-brainers):

  1. Invigorating membership and engagement - the lifeblood of the party.
  2. Strong governance, leadership and team.
  3. Building a talented and diverse caucus.
  4. Improved recruitment, selection and list strategy.
  5. Policy development.
  6. Improving digital engagement.
  7. Party vote emphasis.

At each upcoming regional conference members will be given an opportunity to discuss and debate the proposed changes before taking a straw poll. 

A special general meeting is expected to be held in Wellington on June 26 to finalise the proposed changes and deal with any appeals.