The New Zealand opposition National Party is in turmoil after other leadership changes
By John Braddock and Tom Peters
July 18, 2020
In the latest sign of growing instability in New Zealand’s political formation, the main opposition National Party installed a new leader this week after weeks of chaos within the party. Changes occur only 10 weeks before the September 19 general election scheduled.
Former cabinet minister Judith Collins won a leadership vote at an emergency caucus meeting on Tuesday night, following the sudden resignation of the incumbent, Todd Muller, the previous day.
Muller cited unspecified health problems and declared him “not the best person” to lead the party. In May he replaced Simon Bridges at a spill of leadership triggered by the party’s decline in the polls.
Muller’s leadership period of 53 days is the shortest of all parliamentary leaders in New Zealand’s history. Media commentators said the trigger for his resignation was the revelation that National Party MP Hamish Walker and former party president Michelle Boag leaked personal medical details of COVID-19 patients in an effort to embarrass the Labor-led government.
The media attacked Muller’s inability to control his MPs and his failure to get the political appeal from the government’s mismanagement of quarantine hotels, which led to the resignation of the Minister of Health. David Clark earlier this month.
However, the ongoing crisis within the National Party has deeper roots than the scandal surrounding Walker and Boag. Collins is the third person to lead the party this year and the fourth since shock resignation Prime Minister John Key in 2016.
The National Party’s turmoil stems in part from the lack of significant differences with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s main response to the crisis. This consisted of handing over tens of billions of dollars to big business in the form of subsidies, bailouts, and tax concessions, even when companies such as The Warehouse, SkyCity, and Air New Zealand had fired thousands of people.
For now, the Labor Party appears to be the ruling elite to oversee the ongoing barbaric pro-business restructuring. The media in New Zealand and internationally have praised Ardern’s praise for the handling of the corona virus pandemic.
A more fundamental source of political instability is the difference between the National foreign policy and the Labor government. While both parties support close military and intelligence relations with the United States, including NZ’s participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Party remains concerned about alienating China, New Zealand’s main trading partner.
The efforts of the 2008-2017 national government to balance the US and China became increasingly untenable when President Barack Obama, followed by Trump, increased military siege and economic pressure on China.
The Ardern coalition government, which includes New Zealand’s First Nationalist Party and the Green Party, was formed in 2017 with Washington’s support. During the coalition talks that followed inconclusive elections, the US Ambassador Scott Brown openly criticized the National Party for failing to support Trump’s threat to “destroy” North Korea. He indicated that the next government must take a firm stand against China.
The drive for war is accelerating now because of the unprecedented health, economic and social crisis caused by this pandemic. Washington aims to reverse its long-term economic downturn and assert its global dominance, and divert the anger of the working class over the increasing number of US deaths.
The Ardern government has strengthened New Zealand’s integration into US war preparations. The 2018 defense policy statement called China and Russia the main “threat” to the global order, echoing the Pentagon. This also increases military spending and recruitment.
Meanwhile government supporters in the media, along with leading pro-US academics Anne-Marie Brady, have sought to portray the National Party as a compromise because of its relationship with Beijing. This anti-Chinese campaign, which began before the 2017 elections, is now bearing fruit.
Muller’s resignation follows a surprise announcement on July 10 by Chinese-born national MP Jian Yang that he will retire after the election. Brady, NZ First, trade unions are supported Daily blog and the fascist group Action Zealandia all accused Yang – without any evidence – as an agent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Which is a significant fundraiser for the National Party. He also helped organize delegation going to Beijing last year was led by Bridges, who was attacked in the media for praising the Chinese government.
As a leader, Muller argued for further trade with China; he also defended Yang and promoted him in the National Party parliamentary ranking, from number 33 to 27.
Bridge Expulsion, Yang’s resignation and Muller’s resignation show growing divisions within the National because of its relationship with China. Goods also noted: “About a third of the National MPs who were elected in the last election have left or will leave,” including prominent figures in the 2008-2017 government: Bill English, Paula Bennett, Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams and Nathan Guy.
Apart from the differences in foreign policy that existed between the National Party and Labor, there was a complete agreement with the Ardern government which continued to attack work, wages and living conditions and working class.
The Collins installation will not solve the party’s crisis. In particular, Collins has returned the Bridge to its front bench with a key portfolio of foreign affairs and justice. His own business connection with China will be a big concern in Washington. In 2014, Collins was warned by Prime Minister Key for using an official trip to Beijing to support dairy products that were exported by New Zealand company Oravida, where her husband was a director.
Collins’ leadership represented a further step towards right-wing authoritarianism. In the key government, he was a hardline police minister, overseeing increased access to tasers and firearms for officers. The media dubbed him “Crusher Collins” when he proposed a law to destroy illegal road racer vehicles.
Journalist book Nicky Hager 2014 Dirty Politics revealed that Collins was a trusted right-wing blogger Cameron Slater. In one of his messages to Slater, Collins summed up his approach to politics as: “If you can’t be loved, then it’s best to be feared.” He is temporary deleted from the cabinet over alleged involvement in Slater’s attempt to smear the head of the Serious Fraud Office on behalf of an investment banker under investigation.
Together with Collins, Gerry Brownlee was appointed as the new deputy leader. Brownlee is widely hated for his role as minister responsible for recovering the Christchurch earthquake after 2011. This is a disaster for tens of thousands of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed and who faced endless delays and poor repairs from government agencies and insurance companies.
The National Party was founded in 1936, after the election of the first Labor government, as a grouping of pro-business forces determined to suppress the growing working class opposition to capitalism. In the midst of the most severe crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression, all major parties are once again preparing to brutally face mass opposition to job loss, austerity, and militarism.