Phil Goff has a lot to answer for after ruining the summer tradition of the barbecue for other MPs. Goff hosted an infamous barbecue in the late 90s where reportedly the prospect of challenging Helen Clark for the Labour Party leadership was openly discussed.

Barbecue at Phil's became shorthand for plotting a leadership coup.

So there was some sensitivity when it was discovered National Party MPs were going to a barbecue at Simon Bridges' house in the lead-up to the National Party caucus. That barbecue was last night.

Goff himself broke the juju of barbecues when he made it to the leadership after 2008 — he opted for self parody, hosting his own barbecue and allowed the cameras in to get a few shots and have their fun. Bridges insisted his was simply the usual hospitality from the local MPs. But there was a great reluctance to allow media to get a quick photo.


In politics when there is sensitivity about the sausages, the result is a suspicion things may indeed have reached BBQ at Phil territory. News of the barbecue sparked, or at least coincided with, chatter about the National Party leadership.

While National's leader Bill English appears to still have his safety belt on for the leadership, minds have started to turn to who might take over when the time comes. Immediate attention turned to Paula Bennett and Steven Joyce.

National was quick to point out it was Bennett herself who had picked Tauranga as the venue for the caucus, and she would be at the Bridges barbecue for the early arrivals.
English himself wasn't due to attend (more fool him).

At the moment the motivation for the leadership talk seems to be more an attempt to find a scapegoat for NZ First Leader Winston Peters' decision to go for Labour. The MPs will undoubtedly use the caucus to try to decide on an NZ First strategy and how to go about getting in a better position next time round.

There will also be talk about who is best to go about doing that, but that will be whispering behind raised hands rather than open debate.

It will not help that National MPs will be stinging from a week of coverage of Labour leader Jacinda Ardern's trip to the North which was almost uniformly positive.

National's most senior representative at Waitangi, Steven Joyce, did his best but he does not carry the weight of being leader. So English is likely to come under some fire for his decision to stay away.

There are, as English himself has said, those in National with personal ambitions. They also have different levels of self-control.

As for overtures to NZ First, Joyce and MPs Mark Mitchell, Todd Muller, Shane Reti, Denise Lee and Hareta Hipango all went to Shane Jones' party at Waitangi. Jones rather than Peters was their target. It will not have been heartening for them.

Jones quipped to the Herald that his house was on an old farm and he had pondered penning off an area for National MPs on the old hydatids dosing strip. Peters treated them as if they were infested, imposing a 10m buffer zone lest he be pictured with them.

But NZ First too will have to turn its mind to how it treats National. It has suffered more than any other party in the election aftermath, its support almost halving in the latest poll. Peters will not be panicking yet. But he is unlikely to get away with playing the "NZ First could go either way" card in 2020.

At the moment his best chance of getting back to the 5 per cent is if it seems Labour will be able to form a Government with the Greens alone. Then he might persuade National voters only NZ First can restrain the dastardly plans of the Greens and Labour.

But being overly disparaging to National will not help, especially when it comes to English, who has managed to keep his supporters clinging like limpets despite losing government.

Then there is the question of Peters' own future. He is yet to say whether he will stand in 2020. It is likely he has not even decided himself. But if he doesn't he will have to give his successor the chance of a fair run-up.

Peters has made it clear who he thinks that should be. While Ron Mark is still his deputy, Shane Jones is more often beside him at events. And it was Jones Peters had speak for him at the Waitangi powhiri, despite Peters being there himself.

Barbecue at Shane's next year could be very interesting indeed.