The National Party needs to find itself, say those who love it dearly.
It has little to do with Judith Collins, leading a party that most recently scored 21 per cent by the man Sir John Key once described as "the best pollster in New Zealand".
Instead, it is more to do with the foundation on which she stands - or on which her replacement will stand if or when she gets rolled.
That foundation is the National Party as it exists outside the parliamentary wing, founded in 1936 and New Zealand's preferred Government in the years since. Like other political parties, it separates the work its MPs do in Parliament from the work done by those who get them there.
As Sir George Chapman, party president from 1973 for nine years, said in 2014: "It is little understood the parliamentary team is only a branch. They represent the party. The party has to remain protecting that basic philosophy."
For National, it's a foundation that once stretched far and wide with more than 200,000 members across rural and urban New Zealand. Today, the Herald has been told, membership struggles to reach 10 per cent of that number.
If there's a path to rebuilding, as much relies on Collins' ability to rejuvenate her appeal to voters as it does on the party structure to provide National MPs and supporters with its true political north.
And inside that party structure is division, frustration and - perhaps even worse - those who have just walked away.
The Herald has carried out multiple interviews with those involved in the party at its lowest and highest reaches. Those people will not be named - there is little tolerance for open talk in National at this time. The Herald also did not benefit from an interview with party president Peter Goodfellow - he declined.
Common themes emerged in those interviews that some members feel must be addressed, and as much lies in its past as its future.
When the National Party came into being in 1936, it was through a union of town and country. The United Party had its roots in urban New Zealand while the Reform Party came from rural areas, representing mainly farmers with smaller holdings and more staff than today's large and mechanised farms.
It took 13 years before it won an election. Since then it has been New Zealand's most consistently elected Government.
In the 72 years since it first came to power, National has been in government for 47 years. Labour, in contrast, has had 86 years since first winning power in 1935 and just 39 years in office.
It was a party, Sir Keith Holyoake said in 1959, that believed in "a property-owning democracy".
"We believe in the maximum degree of personal freedom and the maximum degree of individual choice for our people. We believe in the least interference necessary with individual rights, and the least possible degree of state interference."
National - and New Zealand - are vastly different from those days. When Chapman tilted at the National Party presidency in 1973, it was an organisation of 200,000 members. Of the election defeat that preceded his presidency, he said: "From time to time, [National] goes into Opposition and that basic philosophy sparks up again."
Chapman's role was "revitalising" the party, immersing himself in the grassroots membership. He and wife Jacqueline travelled the country. On those journeys, he met those involved in the party, argued for modernisation, heard concerns, talked about underlying policy and values.
The party, at the time, had a network that reached into almost every part of New Zealand life. It provided a feedback loop for the party - the centre provided a framework into which New Zealand's conservative communities could express liberal principles of individual choice and the light hand of the state.
"It just needs the leadership," he said. That happened when Sir Rob Muldoon challenged and defeated Jack Marshall to lead National to a landslide 1975 election victory.
When Chapman ran for president, the party took ballots from the floor of the meeting, running votes until the challengers fell to none. His nine years were the longest tenure of any president until Goodfellow came along in 2009.
Back then, the network that led to the presidency was sprawling. It connected branches with dozens of members to electorates whose members numbered in hundreds and thousands.
National was described as the most democratic of parties, with a multitude of delegates appointed to represent interests at regional and national gatherings. It was boisterous and unwieldy, right the way up to the sprawling Dominion Council and board, but it also offered an open path from the local branch member cooking up policy ideas through to voting for president. Martin Nestor, National's first research officer, from 1944 through to the late 1960s, described it as a pyramid - a broad base supporting the pinnacle.
In the time between National's peak membership and the advent of MMP, the shape of our country changed. An increasing shift in the rural-urban divide was accompanied by a more mobile population, thinning the connective tissue binding communities.
Even then, the party was energised by its grassroots connections. It was energy returned through annual policy summer schools, investing in the base of the pyramid for greater structural integrity.
The advent of the Roger Douglas political reforms in the 1980s shifted the landscape, encroaching on National's small government and "hand-up, not hand-out" territory. The swing in the 1990 election, near-defeat in 1993 and the advent of an MMP election in 1996 that saw newcomer Act do so well meant the party faced the 1999 election with a thinning membership stretched across structures that had carried much greater numbers.
The turmoil continued with Labour's election in 1999 and National's historic defeat in 2002. It was an election that saw party president Michelle Boag's talent-hunting pay off through recruits such as former Reserve Bank governor Dr Don Brash and markets trader John Key.
But it also triggered a strategic review from new party president Judy Kirk, carried out by future minister and campaign manager Steven Joyce. His view of organisations is one of an engineer to a machine, in which streamlined design and sleek construction ensure smooth operation.
"The organisational structures had grown up over many years and for all the right reasons," Joyce wrote a few years later. "The problem was they weren't suited to nationwide campaigning for MMP, which requires a centralised, focused and managed campaign."
The party reorganisation saw the pyramid refined, dramatically. It also introduced tiers - where once the bottom of the pyramid spoke to the top, it now introduced levels of succession. It also smoothed out the disproportionate impacts of imperfect representation, trying to remove the power of cliques.
For Joyce, it was about creating an organisation that enabled rather than constrained people. "Often it's a lack of personal ownership, not resources, that affects people's performance," he wrote. "There are way too many good people that can't (do a good job) because their priorities aren't set properly, or they are constantly shunted around, or because they are not given a clear understanding of what they are supposed to achieve."
The elections that followed might be seen as an endorsement of party structural changes. In 2005, Brash came close to seizing victory. In the 2008 election, (later Sir) John Key did so and formed a Government with exceptional performers such as Joyce, Bill English, Paula Bennett, Simon Power, Judith Collins and Tony Ryall, among others.
Then followed nine years of political sunshine for National during which success created success, membership was enthusiastic, donations flooded in and the legend of the Joyce Machine grew.
Key stayed until November 2016, giving English his blessing as successor. That blessing, the Joyce Machine and English were enough to secure the largest portion of the vote but not enough to carry the 2017 election once Jacinda Ardern struck a coalition deal with New Zealand First's Winston Peters.
Some in National greeted the loss with anger, believing the electorate had become entranced by style over substance. There was a despondent frustration, not unlike the deflated exhaustion that beset Labour between 2008 and 2014, during which MPs and party members muttered that the public hadn't realised how good they had it.
Since then, so much has happened that it seems now it was National - not the electorate - that failed to appreciate what it had. The tight leadership of Key, English and Joyce with a strong support crew of Amy Adams, Bennett and Nikki Kaye evaporated as they left, or were sidelined and stepped aside, in the years that followed.
Simon Bridges was chosen over Joyce, then Collins over Bridges, which led to Bennett's campaign work falling aside as a new leader took over. The 2020 election was ruinous.
The much-vaunted "Joyce Machine" appeared to respond best - or only - to Joyce as operator. Or, as some speculate, was it just bad timing? Members use sporting analogies to compare National's fortunes to the fan support teams enjoy when on a winning streak versus the blood-letting coaches face after subsequent losses.
Those who are reflecting on current woes ask if the loss of those talented headliners has simply landed a weight on Joyce's 2002-2005 party reforms that was absent during the time the A-Team was in charge.
There was a review under way from 2017 that developed into the post-2020 election review and a wider governance/structural probe. Connections to the grassroots were "outside the scope", said former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Jim McLay, who was deeply involved.
Rather, it focused on issues of governance and management of the party. McLay said most recommendations were followed but won't comment otherwise.
That's been the party's position on the reviews. Goodfellow's email in March to those who gave feedback talked only in generalities, saying no detail would be provided. "To do so would give our political opponents the much-needed distraction they want from us holding the Government to account for its failings."
He spoke of "disunity, leaks, and poor behaviour that severely impacted public perception of National", but the antics of the parliamentary wing were obvious to anyone who caught a news bulletin this year. He did say "this was by no means an isolated factor", although offered nothing to explain what else might be at play.
Goodfellow said the party needed to "rebuild that trust and unity" and would do so by "openly sharing a summary of the results of the review with members". It did so through limited meetings at which limited information was provided.
This year saw the most recent round of party constitutional reforms. There was a failed attempt to introduce independent directors with a focus on governance. They needed to be party members but - beyond that - were not required to be politically active players.
Documents show other proposed changes included limiting the numbers of those eligible to run for the presidency, or to be on the board appointments committee. There was organised opposition to the move.
To those the Herald interviewed, the moves were seen as attempts to take a tighter grip and in doing so create further distance between the party hierarchy and its supporters.
Rather than the pyramid structure, it mimics a top-down hierarchical management model that some say is simply not suited to the ideas-led ambition of politics. In embracing a corporatised approach to politics, did it embrace a risk-lite mediocrity in candidates and policies?
Act party president Tim Jago is aware National's loss has been its gain. "We've certainly noticed an increase in our membership and have enjoyed an increase in donations."
Those who have flocked to join - a three-fold increase in two years, says Jago - are those who want to see "two strong parties on the right of things".
Act has not arrived at this point without some thought. Those who have joined, he says, want to feel they have involvement. With that in mind, Act has organised itself in a way that allows the grassroots of the party to reach the top of its own pyramid.
That realisation and change came before the last election when Act went from a single MP - leader David Seymour - to 10 MPs. Jago said the signs were that it would emerge as a much larger party.
"Eighteen months ago we prioritised a lot of money towards research (polling), focus groups, to make sure our messages were salient, on point." It allowed the party to home in on issues that mattered to people, to shape its message and to ensure candidates - now MPs - were able to speak in an intelligent and informed way.
Act also revamped its structure, going from five regions to nine regions, and set up a "national council". It handles policy development and party matters while the board handles governance. The council members - elected last Friday - are representatives from each region.
"Their job is to make sure we're connecting with the membership at a local level. We've got this constant energy out there at a local level. Our party wants to hear what the matters are of local concern," said Jago.
Is it this that National needs to work on? One former candidate thinks so. He was a grassroots supporter who unsuccessfully sought selection and later spent time at Parliament. Around him, particularly in the past decade, were National MPs who had entered the party looking for a candidacy without a lasting prior connection.
He appreciates the developing trend of head-hunting talent aims to bridge the gulf of talent emerging from some electorates - lower membership numbers and ageing members don't encourage fresh talent emerging from the ranks.
The party is aware revitalising membership is critical. Numbers produced at the conference this year show a tumble from a 35,000 high in 2008 to less than 25,000 four elections later. At the time of the briefing to members, membership for 2021 was around 18,000.
It did tell members that "Special Interest Groups" - Māori, Chinese, Filipino and Indian branches - were a focus for membership growth. Doing so would create avenues from which to recruit younger and more diverse candidates that would appeal to untapped voters, members and donors.
If this is the answer, though, wasn't the question obvious a decade ago? In the time since, those new candidates and communities don't appear obvious in National's current caucus.
Instead, the former candidate asks how closely connected headhunted candidates are to the party they seek to represent. At one selection meeting, he recalls an MP-in-waiting being asked: "Why are you in the National Party?" The answer was: "We need the National Party otherwise Labour will get in."
It was a weak answer for a party that spells out its reasons for being in its constitution - loyalty to New Zealand, equality, individual freedom and choice, personal responsibility, limited government, that competition in business brings rewards, strong families and caring community and sustainable development.
Seek out talent, he says, but bring it into the party before sending it off to Parliament so they are immersed in its values, its history and where its future might lie. And not those who are engaged with the party through working in Parliament, as has been the trend on both sides of the House.
"There should be a development process. There's a disconnect there now [to the grassroots]. I don't envy them their task. It feels more than cyclical. They've become disconnected from the future."