Claire Trevett: National Party conference a bride short of a wedding

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The National Party conference is something like a wedding with a nervous groom, something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

The blue came in the new hues of blue on the conference programme, more calm and muted shades than the bright teal preferred by former Prime Minister John Key.

That programme cover promised the ‘new”. “new team, new ideas, new zealand ” it read, all in trendy lower case. The other ‘new’ was National’s place in Opposition rather than Government.

The old came in the form of Key himself, as well as reassuring noises for the more traditional National supporters from leader Simon Bridges that the party would stick to the old when it came to economic policies.

The borrowed was in the form of the announcement to restore and expand charter schools – a policy that was initially the Act Party’s.

It is a potentially risky conference as National’s first in Opposition in a decade and with Bridges struggling to get traction as preferred Prime Minister.

The National Party are no fools and so, at 3.30pm, the drinks arrived in the media room at the Sky City Convention Centre where their annual conference was being held.

It was just in time for journalists returning from the talks at the main conference to start writing up the day’s proceedings.

The discussions showcased National’s ‘broad church,’ from a remit for a tax-free income bracket to a delegate describing the Resource Management Act as having “too much ethnicity” in it.

But earlier in the day Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters had run interference by having a go at Bridges and deputy leader Paula Bennett.

He warned on The Nation that ‘the jackals’ were coming for them and would take out the weakest first.

Both Bennett and Bridges rose to the bait, saying Peters must be worried to be lavishing so much attention on them.

If that is a sign of worry, then National must be very worried indeed about Peters and Housing Minister Phil Twyford – or as one delegate called him “the dreadful Mr Twyford.”

Judith Collins (a clear crowd favourite who may or may not be the jackal Peters had in mind) delivered a presentation on housing and the Resource Management Act.

After four minutes of talking about Twyford, Collins said she did not want to talk about Twyford “because he’s not important”.

She then talked about Twyford for 13 more minutes. Eventually she conceded she may have talked a bit about Twyford. “It’s because I love him so much. He’s my favourite.”

Peters too was having attention lavished on him. Party President Peter Goodfellow kicked it off, saying National had “dodged a whiskey-swilling, cigarette-smoking, double-breasted and irrational bullet.”

Nick Smith joined in, saying his worst time in politics was around the Cabinet table with Peters in the 1990s and warning the Greens to get used to swallowing dead rats. Then Collins joined the fun.

Asked whether Peters’ proposal to increase the drink-driving limit to its former level as positive or negative, Collins’ quipped “it was self interest, wasn’t it?”

It did have the effect of somewhat boosting morale, or at least entertaining the delegates.

There was no open questioning about Bridges’ leadership or blood-letting about the election outcome.

But nor did anyone seem to question whether gunning for Peters was really a good idea given the one thing missing from National’s wedding party was a bride to walk up the aisle with in 2020.

Disclaimer: this journalist did not partake of the beverages prior to writing up the day’s proceedings.


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