Anyone who disputes the existence of the National Party’s culture problem is either naïve or in denial.
It is never easy to admit that your team is flawed. Any loyal member will tell you how frustrating it is to see the legacy at risk of being tarnished by controversy after controversy dominating the headlines.
It would, of course, be foolish for those whose political affiliations lie elsewhere to believe this is a problem unique to the National Party. Labour has had its own share of issues over the last few years. Whether it has handled them better is a matter for debate.
But ever since the Jami-Lee Ross debacle, the scandals just haven’t stopped for National. And when a party is already down, each new episode reinforces the idea that there are major problems within the party.
There is a perception that the National Party attracts certain types of individuals. Narcissists, creeps and bullies, to be more specific. Given what has gone down in just the last year alone, it is not difficult to see how this conclusion might be drawn.
It goes without saying that such statements should not be aimed at the entirety of candidate-hopefuls or current MPs. The majority are decent, intelligent, and honest people who genuinely want to make this country a better place for all New Zealanders
But there is clearly an issue with the selection process that needs addressing without delay. While it is impossible to identity every toxic person who expresses an interest in candidacy, a more transparent system would at least filter out some of these problematic individuals before it is too late.
A good place to start would be the professional vetting of pre-selection candidates. It’s not enough to accept that what is claimed in their application is true. A deep dive into their employment history should be undertaken, including proper checks with references who are not known to the party. An extensive background check (including social media) should be mandatory and if any red flags are raised, no matter how insignificant they appear to be, these should be taken seriously.
There is too much interference by those with power within the party, including board and caucus members. They should be well removed from the process, not working behind the scenes to ensure their favourites are successful in being selected. The party will never be revitalised if it continues to simply select friends and supporters of factions and dominant personalities.
The same applies to selecting staffers. Working in Parliament or the leader’s office should not be considered an automatic steppingstone to future candidacy. Obviously, I am not talking about any kind of ban here, but life within the confines of the parliamentary buildings is vastly different to what real New Zealanders experience. You just have to take a look at those in the Labour caucus who have never worked a day in the private sector to see how removed one can become from the realities of society. National should steer clear of that path.
Finally, there appears to be an obsession with trying to recruit high-profile candidates. With this comes the obvious risk of a more significant fallout in the event of any scandal. The same applies when referring to future candidates as ‘up and coming’ or ‘future leaders’. It simply sets them up for a downfall that is considerably more public and damaging to the party. There is already enough ego and ambition in Parliament to go around – we certainly don’t need to be stoking either in a person before they have even been selected or elected.
There is an abundance of people who share the values of the National Party and would make exceptional elected representatives. They might not be as well-known or bring with them influence and connections. But if the party wants to rebuild, it needs to stop selecting flashy new superstars and start reflecting society with candidates who embody decency, honesty, and a desire to improve the lives of all New Zealanders.
These will be reliable and proven people who have actually demonstrated party values in their lives and have connections with the community, rather than those who just turn up to fast track their way into Parliament.
Until it does that, it is hard to see the public viewing National as anything other than a toxic brand.
Monique Poirier has a Masters degree in Political Studies, and is a former small business owner and Parliamentary staffer. She is the Campaigns Manager for the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance.