Nikki Kaye possibly — or more likely — Judith Collins. Boil the question as to who is best to replace Todd Muller as National’s leader down to political basics and the choice is quickly reduced to one of those two potential contenders for the job.
Presuming she is willing to take up the role — and that is by no means certain — Kaye could be the one to contain National’s ongoing crisis of leadership and ensure the party makes a decent fist of things during the upcoming election campaign.
National won’t win the election with Kaye at the helm, however. But she is well capable of ensuring that voter backing for the party does not collapse as it did in 2002 when the party registered just 21 per cent of the party vote.
As much as many both inside and outside National would be reluctant to admit it, Collins, on the other hand, is the only hope National’s MPs have of avoiding another three years wasted warming the Opposition benches in Parliament.
When things go wrong within Collins’ proximity, however, they have had a habit of going very wrong.
Collins is high risk. But with just about everything currently turning to custard for National, the party will have to take some very big risks in the coming weeks.
In the immediate aftermath of Muller’s announcement this morning that he was standing down after just 53 days in the job, there has been talk of Simon Bridges undergoing a resurrection to the position he held for more than two years.
It should remain just that — talk.
Muller secured the numbers in National’s caucus to mount his leadership coup against Bridges for one reason above all others.
Bridges’ unpopularity with the public was of such a breadth and depth that once the opinion polls had National’s share of the party vote plunging to around the 30 per cent under his stewardship, he was bereft of the pulling power with voters to drag that support once again to above 40 per cent.
At that level, National is in with a chance of returning to power. Below that level, the party is shut out of government.
The party could tolerate Bridges as leader despite his meagre results in the preferred prime minister ratings. It could not tolerate his remaining leader once the party’s support started to slide.
Nothing has changed on that front.
Other potential candidates for the vacant leadership include Amy Adams, who was defeated by Bridges in the caucus ballot which followed Bill English’s retirement in early 2018, and, Mark Mitchell, another front-bencher.
The latter is widely-liked and well-respected. But he is still a relative unknown. You don’t throw an unknown into the leader’s job with just two months to go until Election Day.
Adams is hard-working, but hard to warm to. She is also from the drier end of the National caucus at a time when voters feel more secure and comfortable with politicians who are willing to spend, spend and spend in order to save jobs.
Prior to Muller’s coup, Adams had been scheduled to quit politics. He persuaded her to stay on. But questions about her commitment to the leader’s role would linger.
She would likely struggle to get the better of the Prime Minister during the forthcoming campaign. And that is where the bottom-line resides in this crisis of succession.
In Kaye’s case, National’s current deputy leader shares characteristics and a style which is similar to that exhibited by Jacinda Ardern. Kaye would likely hold her own during the face-to-face televised debates between the leaders of the two major parties. But would that be enough?
Kaye has previously expressed little desire to become leader, but such statements count for little when the opportunity to take on such a role presents itself.
In Collins’ case, ambiguity is not a notion with which she has ever felt the need to acquaint herself. She would be in Ardern’s face from the moment she became the leader. Collins is a potential game-changer. She is a known quantity as far as the public is concerned.
Perhaps too well-known. She is a polarising personality. She also prone to serious lapses of judgement.
But she is probably the only choice with a chance of achieving what currently looks to be mission impossible — namely victory on September 19.
The caucus vote is her last chance of having a crack at securing the job she has craved for so long. She represents National’s last chance of emerging victorious on election night.
Let the battle commence.