Could Collins become National's new leader?

Judith Collins
Judith Collins
After a turbulent few weeks for National, Bryce Edwards looks at the case for and against Judith Collins taking over as party

Could Judith Collins finally get her chance to lead the National Party, and perhaps even become prime minister? She is back in the frame as a serious contender for the leadership, following Simon Bridges' ``worst week in politics''.

There is no doubt Mr Bridges is looking wounded at the moment. Rating only 7% as ``preferred prime minister'' in Tuesday's 1News Colmar Brunton poll compounded that damage, especially because Ms Collins was nipping at his heels at 5%.

The case for Judith Collins

Ms Collins could make an impact as National leader because she is colourful, both in terms of her personality and politics, unlike Mr Bridges who comes across as a mild, centrist technocrat. She is brash, humorous, and fiery. Her politics, likewise, are much more hard-line - she is a ``true blue'' right wing conviction politician, but with a feel for populist electioneering.

In 2015, Ms Collins wrote an important newspaper column about modern politics and her approach. Ms Collins saluted the British Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn for revitalising politics there with his idealistic and authentic campaign for the leadership: ``For them, Jeremy Corbyn is a breath of fresh air offering an alternative viewpoint, even if he is deluded. And that's what politics should be about - a contest of ideas, policies and views - even crazy ones.''

This could be just the recipe for National to take on the popular Jacinda Ardern and Labour. We are in more radical times at the moment, when the public want big and bold ideas and statements from our politicians. Certainly, under a National Party led by Ms Collins, voters would see some dramatic contrasts to the current government.

The case against Judith Collins

Yes, she is polling just behind Mr Bridges, but 5% is not really any great achievement. Given National polled at 43% it suggests fewer than 12% of National supporters back her. The real story here is that at least 72% of National supporters don't want either of them.

Not being Mr Bridges is simply not enough on its own.

It's not just voters she needs to win over. Under MMP, major parties either have to win the centre votes themselves or have potential coalition partners able to do so.

Centrist politics are simply not Ms Collins' style, but ``no-mates National'' hasn't got very good prospects for future coalition partners either, and making Ms Collins leader won't improve them. Judith Collins, Marama Davidson and James Shaw? Judith Collins and Winston Peters? Both look very unlikely.

Ms Collins and David Seymour, for sure - but a Collins-led National Party would make Act even more redundant (if that is possible).

But the main problem is that, while Jami-Lee Ross has damaged Mr Bridges, he has actually damaged Ms Collins much more, especially in the minds of the National Party and its caucus.

The train wreck that National had last week was actually the end of a very slow motion derailment that started many years ago. In 2014 Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book showed there was an element in the National Party that behaved in a ruthless and unethical way. It was Ms Collins who came to be the MP most associated with the nefarious blogger Cameron Slater and his ``dark arts'' political strategist companion Simon Lusk, and she was fired from Cabinet as a result of this controversy.

That a number of the same political actors and techniques are still involved shows that National did not sufficiently banish these elements and practices from within the party.

The silver lining for the National Party from the current horrendous mess is that they now have the opportunity to clean up properly. But this almost certainly means Ms Collins' won't be allowed near the controls. - RNZ

Dr Bryce Edwards is a Victoria University of Wellington academic.



As Chris Trotter alluded to in his Saturday article, the relationship between some political Journalists and the "dark arts" political strategists in Wellington is very concerning. I want to trust the news rather than have to filter through something heavily slanted.