If the National caucus takes a dispassionate view of the contenders for leadership of their party, Steven Joyce's breadth of talent puts him a nose ahead of Judith Collins, Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Mark Mitchell.

Joyce finally came out of the blocks in the race to be National leader, adding new tension to that particular chess board.

A Joyce/Collins leadership combo would also be stronger than any of the other permutations when it comes to National front-footing it as the Opposition within Parliament.

That combo - together with Amy Adams in finance - would make a strong contrast to the coalition's leading lights: Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and Grant Robertson.


The National trio are clearly rational and hard-headed - something that might well provide a contrast to the softer political hue of the Ardern-led coalition. Generationally, they are also at least "half a click" older than Ardern - as indeed are many of the voting public that between them gave National nearly 45 per cent of vote at the September 23 election last year.

Joyce has more stature than the other four leadership contenders.

A former entrepreneur, he is well networked into the New Zealand business sector and is equally at home with sophisticated agribusiness leaders as he is with leading-edge high-tech exponents. He was the Cabinet workhorse during Key's prime ministership (along with being National's election strategist) and became known as the Minister of Everything.

Some aspects of his former role gave rise to disquiet. Particularly, his tendency to run policies that saw overly generous "corporate welfare" at the big end of town, without getting sufficient payback or return on the taxpayer's investment. And some questionable deals - like the pokies' tradeoff that his team negotiated with SkyCity to build the International Convention Centre.

But the fact is he got results.

Collins also has stature, although John Key damaged her reputation within the caucus when he conveniently threw her under a bus at the 2014 election to cauterise the impact of the Dirty Politics saga on National's electoral chances.

A weaker person would have faded into the political woodwork after that gutter punch. But like Bill English before her, Collins rebuilt herself and "got up" again.

Joyce and Collins are also the most likely of the contenders to resonate with the business sector.

But there is one big caveat: they must learn to listen.

That is no easy task after nine years in Cabinet (in Joyce's case) and marginally less for Collins whose period in Siberia was succeeded by another period as a Cabinet minister.

They might be challenged when it comes to leading regeneration within caucus. But they are capable of taking a fresh look at policy renewal and myriad other priorities.

This is important if the party is wanting to reposition by 2020.

But to succeed by then, National needs to show it has heeded the messages that the business sector sent the party in 2017: to be more inclusive and ensure they have programmes to counter the social downside of policies. Case in point is the housing gap that opened in the last Parliamentary term after National decided to back immigration-fuelled growth.

But the most critical task is to provide a clear counterpoint to the coalition. Joyce, Collins - and Adams - could do that.