The new hat in the ring has changed my mind on the National leadership race. I was backing Amy Adams and I still think she’s a sharp operator, but like many of us, that’s because I knew little of Mark Mitchell. But we didn’t know much about John Key either.
The thing that appeals to me about Mark Mitchell, is that he’s had life experience. In announcing his run, he’s come out swinging calling the government shamobolic. He’s also dismissed all the ‘generational change’ rhetoric we’re being fed. He said Jacinda Ardern’s comments on it being “her generation's” turn, were disappointing. "When you're the leader of a country, you lead for all generations,” he observed. Quite right.
In an age where we hear constantly about celebrating all the ‘youth’ coming into parliament, the flipside is, we are running out of experience. Yes it’s progressive and yes it’s great that everyone’s having babies and running the country, but girl power aside, what do we actually need in terms of representation? Well, people who represent us, and anyone with a bit of life experience is a good start.
Mark Mitchell came into parliament in 2011, he’s apparently well liked by caucus, not well known by the public. That part doesn’t matter for now. It’s a clean slate, which is a good thing. He’s not up against pre-conceived ideas about who he is, he doesn’t have any ghosts to lay to rest. He hasn’t got a killer nickname or an image issue yet.
He rose to Defence Minister under Bill English, which would make sense given he was once a member of the Armed Offenders Squad, a police dog handler, and fought for his life during a five-day siege in Iraq, and was a top international hostage negotiator. Those last two will stand him in good stead for political life. Being able to negotiate with hostages, and fight for your life when under siege, comes in handy in parliament, particularly if you have to deal with Winston. He also went on to run a successful security consultancy in the Middle East.
His delay in announcing his run was due to the fact he was watching his daughter compete in a surf lifesaving competition in Australia. So what have we got? Community service, successful business owner, can negotiate with hostages, plus loving supportive Dad... I mean what’s not to like?
The naysayers claiming he lacks political experience? Well that argument will have ebbed by 2020 and actually, if we’re talking political inexperience, people said the same about Jacinda, Vogue model, All Birds shoes campaigner, Kiwi fashion promoter, DJ, not to mention fish and chip shop worker.
However, she is arguably the most popular leader to slide into the job at the eleventh hour, ever. Political inexperience doesn’t seem to be a detractor if you can rustle up some X-factor. So a big dose of life experience, an established record for business and community, and internally popular.
Can he win? My bet is if he doesn't, his trajectory is still one to watch.