Christopher Luxon and outgoing Party Chairman Peter Goodfellow. Photo/George Heard
In the seminal 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, a powerful fashion editor, Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, confronts her junior assistant Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway to mock frivolity
and seemingly meaningless from the high fashion world in a meeting.
Priestly, a thinly veiled portrait of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, notes that Sachs is wearing a cerulean blue sweater – something Sachs thoughtlessly bought from a cut-price trash can thinking she was deliberately subverting the world of Haute couture.
In fact, as Priestly tells Sachs, her cerulean sweater is the latest word in a color craze that started at a designer show, filtered through high-fashion magazines and designers, and eventually took hold. found his way to the trash can in which Sachs found his sweater.
The thing is, Sachs’ cerulean sweater isn’t a high fashion reject, it was actually chosen, in Priestly’s words, by the very people she thinks she can overlook.
Political party conferences are a lot like that. Even those with a peripheral interest in politics tend not to focus on these events, which are reserved for the paying diehards. You might think it’s unusual to pay hundreds of dollars to sit in a room talking politics for two days, but these people don’t, and they spent the weekend locked in the big darling concrete of a Christchurch convention centre, Te Pae, shaping the future of the National Party, the only party in New Zealand that is in government more often than it is not.
How does the National Party feel? Well, from a funding perspective, pretty clear. Former Deputy Leader Paula Bennett’s multimillion-dollar fundraising spree is replenishing party coffers, not that members are wiser – this information is published by the Elections Commission, it is not released to members in documents released at the conference.
The board’s report to members said the party was in good shape and on budget. Financial statements presented to members indicated that staff costs had risen to 50% of revenue in 2021, from 45% the previous year.
Party Secretary William Durning warned that membership “had seen a decline from 2020 and was well below an ambitious target”.
Nevertheless, he wrote in a report “we expect to see membership growth in 2022”. Membership in political parties tends to increase during the election year.
The National Party’s youth wing, the Young Nats, made their presence felt at the party’s latest conference, handing out rainbow wristbands to protest the caucus’ decision to vote against banning the therapy of conversion, in apparent violation of the party’s position in favor of a ban (the caucus opposed on a technical point).
In her report to the party, its president Stephanie-Anne Ross said the Young Nats were “very happy” to see the caucus change making conversion therapy a matter of conscience and that a “significant part” of the caucus supports a ban at second and third readings.
The National Party is often seen as a party of land ownership and investment, so it was interesting to see the Young Nats gently push the older parts of the party on the contentious issue of urban intensification. Many believe intensification is key to getting young people onto the homeownership ladder, but it’s hugely unpopular with some nationally-leaning voters who don’t like the idea of building more homes in their suburbs.
Ross said the Young Nats had supported the joint National and Labor effort to enable greater urban growth in our biggest cities, and urged a rethink of New Zealand’s “psyche” when it comes to property, which she called “unsustainable”.
“As members of the generation paying record rents and struggling to secure security for our first home, we are acutely aware of the impact of the housing crisis.
“The bill demands a shift in the currently unsustainable Kiwi ‘psyche’ that will keep generations of young Kiwis out of home ownership, and we were proud to support it,” she wrote.
One part of the party that would like more attention is National’s environmental wing, the Bluegreens. National likes to think of itself as a broad church, and nowhere is that more true than in the realm of the environment, where party membership encompasses the fringes of climate denial to members who would like National to go along with the Greens on environmental issues.
Senior party officials are very keen to ensure that National does not fall back into climate denial. Hours into the proceedings, a panel of senior MPs was asked what National could do on the climate because the Labor was not doing a very good job.
Chief Christopher Luxon took the mic and deftly crafted the question (it wasn’t clear whether the questioner was against all climate action, or just what Labor was doing) into an answer he found acceptable.
Luxon reminded members that National supports the Zero Carbon Act and the climate change architecture it created, and that National also supports the emissions budgets that have been proposed by the Commission on Climate Change and supported by the Labor Party – he just opposed the Labor Party’s roadmap to hitting those budgets. . The era of the “fart tax” is over (although Nicola Willis bet on the “fart tax”).
In an environmental escape, the party’s environmental wing, the Bluegreens were chastised by its members for not doing enough to market National as a green party. A member reckoned with better public relations, National could take votes away from the current Green Party.
“We don’t get our message out…they don’t see us as green,” she said.
Bluegreens co-chair Chris Severne wasn’t at odds on marketing and public relations issues, and he even told members that the party bureaucracy itself had a problem formulating green policies and getting them done. reach their branch of the party.
He said four of the party’s five regional organizations had not “grabbed the grassroots” with the Bluegreens about policy suggestions that could be presented to the party’s central hierarchy.
He said the Bluegreens had “four or five [policies] of the northern region. We have four other regions that we haven’t heard of from ticketeeboo,” he told members.
Severne told the Herald that a strong economy makes for good environmental policies and said National has every right to celebrate its environmental record as much as Labor does.
“It’s one of the National Party’s best-kept secrets,” he said.
However, he was frustrated by the lack of attention from other popular parts of the party.
“It annoys me. I chair the environmental policy advisory group for the party. I had a great response from the northern region, but a zippo from anyone else.
“We had a political meeting this morning and I made it clear that I was looking for input from other regions from other political chairs in those regions,” he told the Herald.
An equally confusing debate was taking place next door, where Foreign Affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee discussed the China challenge with members. China is New Zealand’s biggest trading partner (a fact that National’s agricultural base hardly needs point out), but was becoming increasingly difficult from a security perspective.
There was a strong recognition of the need for change in the party. In a closed-door discussion on demographics, members were warned the party needed to change to reflect the diversity of New Zealand’s population. In a town hall meeting, Speaker Peter Goodfellow told members voters would only listen to a party that reminded them of themselves and cited diversification as one of his accomplishments as president.
In his final speech as president, he reflected on the maiden speech by long-serving MP Melissa Lee, who noted her journey to becoming New Zealand’s first elected female MP of Korean descent.
Party allocations, which are not necessarily meaningful to the National because there is no guarantee that an allocation will actually become policy, will be debated on Sunday.
The missions are quite diverse and range from the party’s commitment to reviewing all decisions made on He Puapua, to improving access to diagnostic services for gynecological cancers, to increasing defense spending at the level of Australia, trying to improve access to dental care for all New Zealanders.
Whether they filter their way, cerulean style, into National’s manifesto and into party or even government policy will of course depend on how the party feels next year and, more importantly, what New Zealand voters think of the party.
The party also unveiled new colors, ditching the dark blue of the Judith Collins years and opting for a light magenta that fades into deep blue. It’s a bit closer to the lighter, brighter color palette of key years when the party opted for a shade of blue closer to, well, cerulean.
For more on Thomas Coughlan, listen to On the Tiles, the Herald’s political podcast
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