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Guest Opinion: Arise Maurice Williamson

Arise Maurice Williamson
The Solution To National's Leadership Woes

Guest Opinion From J.P. Small

In much the same way as the English - Boag combination blew the election for National, Bill English's post election performance has likewise blown his brief hold on the party's leadership.

Boag paid the ultimate price for her role in the disastrous election and, just four months later, sweepstakes are now springing up around Wellington to try and pick how much longer English will last.

Commentators like the Listener’s Jane Clifton are right in saying his rolling may now be unavoidable, but most commentators are missing the obvious in their picks of possible successors.

Nobody has picked the rise of Maurice Williamson from the bottom of the party caucus to take the National Party's top job. Why not?

It makes perfect sense. The Pakuranga MP has high levels of support from both his electorate and what is left of the party membership, and is widely recognised as representing what National used to stand for - personal responsibility and choice, the freedom of business, a hands off approach to Government, a 'firm but fair' approach to welfare, the private benefit of a tertiary education.

The old National values in a more progressive package. Exactly what the party needs now.

More than that, however, he represents clear opposition to all that has gone wrong with the National Party over the last couple of years. He railed furiously against Michelle Boag's performance in the election - to the delight of many National faithful - and was both rewarded with her eventual resignation and punished by his demotion to the last position in caucus.

Like so much of what has followed, Williamson's demotion was handled appallingly by Bill English with the end result being the creation of a kind of martyrdom for the dumped MP. Ironically, his dumping now works in his favour.

He stands staunchly against everything that has failed so badly for National - primarily English and Boag - and to dump English and shift Williamson from the very bottom of the caucus to the top would be the clearest and most decisive signal the party could send that it has put the whole unfortunate experiment behind it. For the party to show it has genuinely learnt from its mistakes and wants to get back to its roots, back to the basics.

Several commentators have noted correctly that Gerry Brownlee is just not suitable leadership material and that Simon Power is not stupid enough to stick his head up now. And so it is really Maurice Williamson or nobody. Nobody else in the National caucus has the capacity, the respect or the experience.

National can't afford to let English stay in the top job any longer than another eight or nine months. They need to get rid of him and leave the party at least two years to bed in a new leader and start getting its house in order if it is to have any hope of improving on its last election performance.

Blasting Williamson from the bottom to the top of caucus would, lets face it, be a brave and radical move, but the National Party needs nothing less.

Even if Williamson spent three years as a 'fill in' leader while National's succession crisis was ironed out, it would be three years of National finally getting back on track with intelligent, consistent and capable leadership.

And so now is Maurice Williamson's time. Despite his ranking in caucus, Williamson is in the prime of his parliamentary career. All it will take for the numbers to start falling into place is for the media to acknowledge the obvious, and for the National caucus to finally wake up.

That of course may be simpler said than done..


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