Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger has weighed in on the National Party's leadership race, saying that the party he once led needs to have a serious think about where it wants to go.
Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Photo: RNZ/Rebekah Parsons-King
Leader Judith Collins lost a vote of confidence this week and deputy leader Shane Reti was named acting leader.
The party is scheduled to meet Tuesday to select a new leader, with former leader Simon Bridges and MP Christopher Luxon among the top candidates.
Reti is the fifth leader the National Party has had since Jacinda Ardern was elected Prime Minister in 2017.
The former National leader, who was Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997, spoke to TVNZ's Q + A today and did not mince words when it came to evaluating the current state of his party.
"Disappointing is a very gentle way of putting it," Bolger said. "The electors gave their verdict at the last election."
"What the National Party needs to be doing ... is actually saying what are we going to do different. What's our new vision?"
Bolger would not be drawn on whether he thought Bridges or Luxon should be the next leader.
"I'm sure the qualities are in the caucus," he said. "The caucus has to decide which of them can meet some of the challenges."
"I'm not going to nominate them. I just think they have to look at presenting the National vision much better than they did before the last election."
Simon Bridges and Chris Luxon may contest Tuesday's National Party leadership vote. Photo: Dom Thomas
The National Party suffered a landslide defeat last year and won the party vote in only one electorate.
"You can't get much lower than that," Bolger said.
Bolger said society is currently divided on many levels, noting "the divisions that are occurring in New Zealand now between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated," and National needs a leader who can bridge that gap.
"We want a leader in the opposition as well as in government. We want a leader that can bring people together."
Bolger said that a kind of "reimagining capitalism" needs to be done, not just in Aotearoa but globally.
"Clearly the model that's been pursued across the world now is dividing societies. Some are getting obscenely rich and others are going to the food kitchens. That's a dangerous position for a society."
"We've got to do a lot of hard thinking as a society, not only the National Party."
Bolger said the caucus should remember they will not just be selecting a new leader, but possibly a future prime minister.
"What vision do they have? What new ideas do they have?"
Bolger noted that transitions from a popular leader are hard in any party.
"The Labour Party were exactly the same when Helen Clark left."
National should not think that Labour is unbeatable in 2023, he said.
"There is no reason the Labour Party can't be defeated at the next election two years away."
But he said National needs to be more than just naysayers.
"They've got to do much more than just be critics.
"What people want to know is if you don't like it, what would you do instead?
Bolger led National through three elections in the 1990s, and told Q + A that the party has to keep changing.
"It really needs a person who has a vision that they can sell that's inclusive, that understands the stresses and strains of a modern society."
"I want to encourage whoever is the leader to think bigger than they've been thinking for the last little while."
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