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Former National Party candidate Jake Bezzant campaigning last year.
Why has National attracted so many weirdos of late?
If not weirdos, then difficult bosses, conspiracy theorists, schemers and backstabbers.
The two resignations this week are the latest additions to this list. One was
former candidate Jake Bezzant who resigned his party membership after his ex-partner alleged that he’d impersonated her online while engaging in cybersex with other men.
The second was long-time MP Nick Smith who suddenly quit on Monday because a story was about to break. He admitted he’d had a verbal altercation with a staffer. Other former National staffers then claimed he was verbally abusive and one of the “most difficult assholes” to work for.
But the impending story never emerged. At least, not one that was worth quitting over. And so attention turned to Judith Collins, his leader who reportedly warned him on Friday that the story was imminent, prompting his resignation. Since there was no story, was it rather a case of her engineering his resignation to get rid of him? Is it more suspicious because the person in line to replace Smith – Harete Hipango – is an ally of Collins?
Don’t be tempted into thinking Collins might’ve simply found a clever way to rid the party of a potentially problematic MP. Hipango is problematic as well. In only one term she’s managed to run into employment issues with staff and draw headlines for a controversial social media post on abortion.
The list of problem-causing personalities in National is far too long for this to be dismissed as a problem now: Jami-Lee Ross with his taped conversations, Andrew Falloon with his dirty texts, Hamish Walker with his leaking of private patient data, Michelle Boag with her involvement in that saga, Maggie Barry with her employment issues.
The stuff that bubbled up in the last term, and subsequently, makes 2014’s Dirty Politics look tame.
It is inexcusable that National’s leadership hasn’t hacked the rot out of that party yet. Seven months into the new term, they shouldn’t be dealing with nonsense similar to what dragged them down at the election.
Bezzant shouldn’t have been anywhere near the party by now. Party bosses knew as early as June last year that there were allegations he had fabricated some of his CV. They claim they did an investigation and found no evidence to substantiate the claims. It sounds increasingly like investigations did not include contacting people making allegations. As a result, he was still speaking at National Party events as recently as last Sunday.
Smith should’ve been gone too. He’s been an effective MP but he is past his used-by date for National. The party is too white and too old. It needs more diversity and more new blood. Smith was hogging a seat that should’ve gone to someone else, urgently.
Ultimately, National’s leadership has to bear much of the blame for this week’s troubles. They should’ve cleaned house immediately after the election in order to start the rebuild proper as soon as possible. They need every day they can get ahead of 2023 because the brand damage from the last election is massive. National is easily the most toxic brand in Parliament.
There will be diehard supporters who hope 2023’s election will be saved by someone in caucus stepping up to the leadership and pulling a Jacinda Ardern Hail Mary pass weeks or months out from the election. But, Ardern didn’t inherit a party with a brand as toxic as this. Labour might’ve been unpopular, but it was disciplined. Andrew Little had spent almost three years getting the party into line. There were no public sex scandals to rival the Bezzant allegations. Knifings were done behind closed doors.
What these ongoing scandals tell us is that National’s leaders either don’t have the courage to cut the weirdos and the problematic, or don’t see the need to.