14 Jul 2020

New Zealand politics' shortest leaderships

5:27 pm on 14 July 2020

Todd Muller may have only served 53 days as leader of the National Party but was his the shortest leadership?

Todd Muller places the final screw in the new billboard in Napier

Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Muller resigned as National leader this morning, having beaten Simon Bridges in a leadership contest less than two months earlier.

Of the parties currently represented in Parliament, ACT is the only one to come close to taking out the title of having the shortest-serving leader. Even then, 'close' may be an overstatement - Don Brash racked up a whole 159 days more than Muller.

After a stint away from politics, Brash become the leader of ACT in April 2011, on the same day his party membership was ratified.

Interested in returning to politics, he had said he would launch his own party if he wasn't offered the job. Brash took the role from Rodney Hide who resigned from his position to endorse Brash.

Brash resigned on election night that same year, when ACT won just over 1 percent of the vote.

Following closely in his very light leadership footsteps is Jamie Whyte, who held the ACT leadership for 30 days longer than Brash.

During his time in the role, Whyte notably made public his view that incestuous relationships between consenting adults should not be illegal. He later backtracked, saying he was personally very opposed to incest.

In a similar vein to Brash, Whyte resigned in 2014 following a poor election result, with the leadership going to David Seymour who had won the Epsom seat.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

The shortest Labour leadership was held by David Cunliffe, at just shy of one year and two weeks.

Cunliffe too resigned post-election, saying Labour suffered an historic election loss and in resigning as leader he took responsibility for that.

Under him, Labour faced its worst election defeat since 1922, achieving only 25 percent of the vote. He sought re-election through a primary leadership contest, which he eventually pulled out of.

Holding the Labour Party leader position for two weeks longer than Cunliffe, albeit before Cunliffe was even first elected to Parliament, was Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Palmer became Prime Minister 10 years after first becoming an MP.

He was Prime Minister for 13 months sandwiched between David Lange and Mike Moore, who a desperate Labour Party turned to just two months before the 1990 election in a bid to save the furniture.

Bill English's second go at the National leadership position was a relatively short one. Clocking in at 442 days, his reign from December 2016 to February 2018 was 308 days shy of his first.

English got his second chance at the leadership, becoming Prime Minister when John Key suddenly resigned in 2016.

Going into election night 2017 with a "fine dinner" of spaghetti pizza, English went on to be defeated by Labour's new leader Jacinda Ardern. He resigned almost 5 months later, saying he made his decision after reflection over the summer as he spent more time with his family.

Coming in at number three of National's shortest held leaderships is Sir Jim McLay. He served as Opposition leader from 29 November 1984 - 26 March 1986 after holding the role of deputy Prime Minister.

McLay retired from politics after his ousting.

Lastly, with a time in leadership that blows Muller's out of the water, is David Shearer at 21 months - 589 days more than Muller.

Shearer came closer to two years in the hot seat than any these others listed. Mount Albert MP at the time, he took out the leadership contest in 2011 only to resign mid-term, saying he no longer had the confidence of many caucus colleagues.

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