The imminent resignation of National Party President Peter Goodfellow marks a significant shift in the party leadership, after years of triumph and of great turmoil.
As National’s longest serving president, it is well past time for him to exit the building, but he still has found a way to maintain a position of influence. His current term as a director was due to run out this year, but unchallenged, he’ll stay on the board for another three year term “to assist in the transition”.
Had Goodfellow signaled his intent earlier, it would have allowed a new challenger to put their hand up to join the board and even contest the presidency, but that is now too late. Nominations for board positions closed two days ago, and only board members, who are not MPs, can run for President.
He had a name as an effective fundraiser but has more recently been synonymous for being at the helm during controversies caused by bad behavior of both MPs and candidates, raising serious questions about the culture of the party and even whether it was providing a safe workplace.
Former Speaker and Cabinet Minister David Carter went public with his angry criticism of Goodfellow after he failed to oust him last year, quitting the board in disgust, saying he had “zero confidence” in him as president.
Goodfellow had outstayed his welcome in Carter’s view, citing the party’s post election review which he says highlighted two problems in particular:
“One was the dysfunction of the party’s governance and a lack of money to run a suitable campaign. Neither of those things change whilst Mr Goodfellow remains president of the New Zealand National Party,” he said at the 2021 annual conference.
Goodfellow also took some responsibility for National’s 2020 election year trouncing, telling RNZ after his controversial re-election the following year, he and the leadership team had already done “a lot of work around constitutional changes” and the board would “continue to build on the base “.
Another controversy, far from over, is the upcoming High Court trial featuring both National and Labor, which will lay bare the fundraising practices of the political parties on the hunt for donations.
The links to National are the criminal charges imposed by the Serious Fraud Office against former MP and party whip Jami-Lee Ross, related to conduct during his time as an MP, and while Goodfellow was president. While no current MPs or board members were charged, the case will give an inside look into party activities and its senior figures – not all of it will be pretty.
The shenanigans of the caucus in recent years, and at times party candidates, have also drawn into question the very culture and values of National; not just driven by the leader of the parliamentary wing, but also the president. They run the party side of things, the nuts and bolts if you will: fundraising, membership, candidate selection, running campaigns and setting the rules – including for elected members.
The fall-out from the Jami-Lee Ross controversy not only led to the SFO investigation but painted the party in an incredibly bad light, worsened by a subsequent series of scandals – including the leaking of personal details of Covid patients and two incidents of texting or using social media to send explicit sexual material.
An independent review of party culture was launched, which ended up as a “health and safety” review; while it made recommendations for internal changes, it shed little light on what had actually happened and did little to restore public confidence in the leadership
In a statement announcing his resignation as president at the next AGM, Goodfellow says he was persuaded to stay on after John Key’s resignation in 2016 to help “ensure a stable transition”.
His parting words are the National Party is “going from strength to strength”, with “real momentum” under the current leadership.
“I’m confident we have the right people, processes, and plans in place to move the National Party forward, and I have every confidence National will win the 2023 General Election.”
Leader Christopher Luxon farewells Goodfellow saying it’s been a “stellar amount of service to the party”, paying tribute to changes made under his watch.
“He’s obviously been through some great eras under John Key and Bill English, he’s also been through some more challenging times and importantly a big part of the reset over the last six months,” Luxon says.
In a time of “renewal, it’s time to renew the presidency,” Luxon says when asked if the change was overdue, but said Goodfellow left having “offered great service and leaves us in good shape.”
The lack of diversity within the caucus – partly due to candidate selection but made worse by the 2020 election loss – is another legacy of Goodfellow’s time and should be a key focus for whoever replaces him.