• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Grab your popcorn, there's plenty more political drama to come

Simon Bridges. Photo/Getty Images

In the lull before political business-as-usual resumes, Bill Ralston gazes into his crystal ball. 

As you bask in the summer sun with the cares of 2018 safely behind you, 2019 stretches serenely ahead with not a cloud on the horizon. But let me spoil that happy picture by donning my fortune-telling goggles to see what cataclysms loom in the running of the country.

First, let’s have a peek in the rear-view mirror to see if there are any monsters from the year gone by that could come leaping back into the picture. Ah, yes, Jami-Lee Ross. Say no more.

Now, unless you are National Party leader Simon Bridges, this should not trouble you. In fact, you might want to get yourself a bowl of popcorn and settle down to watch the psychodrama play out as the independent MP for Botany returns from self-imposed health leave sometime early in the year.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

You may recall that last year, Ross imploded in a maelstrom of leaks and accusations against Bridges, was forced out of the National caucus, set up a tent of his own at Parliament and gave his vote to New Zealand First.

You can reasonably assume his return to the House will result in a steady drip, if not a torrent, of further embarrassing leaks and accusations about his former boss. This will serve to further destabilise Bridges’ already wobbly leadership.

With a preferred prime minister ranking of 6% – only one point behind Bridges – in the last Colmar Brunton poll of 2018, Judith Collins strides the corridors of power with a Cheshire Cat grin. My guess is that Ross has been used by a couple of Machiavellian plotters on the Nats’ periphery to pave the way for Collins to oust Bridges and take over the party. National will have to drop several percentage points in the polls before a coup can happen, but I’m picking that Collins has in mind a timeline that could give her the leadership shortly before next Christmas.

The plotters, I understand, also have links to Winston Peters and New Zealand First. A Collins leadership would work to the benefit of both National and Peters who, it is believed, could work with her. It would give the Nats a potential partner in a future government, and be a valuable bargaining chip for Peters in any post-election negotiations with Labour. Once again he would be the kingmaker.

Recharge your popcorn bucket because it does not finish there. The coalition Government’s myriad working groups are due to report back this year and at the beginning of 2020. Perhaps the most important of these is the Tax Working Group, which is likely to recommend a raft of tax changes to reduce inequality, including a capital gains tax. All of the group’s proposals would require the consent of NZ First.

Even if Peters does agree to all the proposed changes, which is very unlikely, Labour will have to take its new tax platform to the electorate in 2020.

Voters, especially the rapidly rising elderly cohort, are likely to be averse to tax increases, especially a capital gains tax on their houses and share funds, their keys to a comfortable retirement.

All of which should guarantee not just an interesting 2019, but a lively 2020 to follow. Slap on the sunscreen and enjoy the tranquillity while it lasts.

This article was first published in the January 5, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.