Opinion: Judith Collins 'will almost certainly be spared' joy of leading National Party with vote just days away


Judith Collins' pedigree is of an increasingly rare breed of politician, one who measures success according to the number of brickbats hurled in his or her direction. The more the better. But not the merrier.

Judith Collins on why she wants National's top spot.
Source: 1 NEWS

If people are unhappy, it is confirmation in Collins' mind that she got it right. It is confirmation that she did not take the easy option; the easy option being almost always the wrong option.

Bouquets are for wimps. Wimps like Sir John Key? Collins did not mention the former National Party leader by name. But it was pretty obvious to whom she was referring in a post on Facebook earlier this week in which she declared "I've never needed a focus group to tell me what to say and what to care about".

Source: 1 NEWS

It is such blunt talk which has seen a surprising number of political pundits, columnists, Beltway insiders and bloggers endorse Collins as the best choice to replace Bill English as National's leader.

It is a bitter-sweet endorsement, however. There is a common thread running through the commentaries sparked by next Tuesday's election of the new leader of the country's major Opposition party.

Ms Collins said her National leadership rival disobeyed rules set out by Bill English.
Source: 1 NEWS

The message is that when it comes to choice, National has none. The party is already being written off in advance of the 2020 general election.

National's chances of avoiding that gloomy prognosis hangs on one thing.

In order to destroy Labour, National must first destroy Jacinda Ardern. Or so the argument goes.

The four other candidates scrapping over the leadership might well be capable of holding their own when going head-to-head with Ardern. But holding one's own is not going to be good enough. Only Collins possesses the pugnacity, the perseverance and ultimately the necessary pig-headedness to nobble Ardern. Or so the argument goes.

It is an argument which seems to cut little or no ice with the bulk of the 55 other MPs in National's caucus. When it comes to such advice, it is a case of thanks, but no thanks.

Unleashing an "attack dog" like Collins on Ardern would have the purpose of stripping the glitz and the gloss off Labour's leader in the hope that would persuade voters that she is really no different from any other politician.

Judith Collins has this morning tweeted she’ll be running as a candidate for leader of the National Party.
Source: 1 NEWS

As Labour discovered with its various attempts to sully Key's image when he was prime minister, the very popularity of the target can make that personality virtually untouchable.

It is the attacker who ends up incurring damage. Pinging a prime minister whose popularity is soaring can make the critic appear churlish, petty and jealous.

The only victim of a strategy of out-and-out attack thus may turn out to be the perpetrator.

For at least the first half of a new government's first term, the Opposition struggles for attention, it struggles for relevance.

It has to endure the constant cry of its enemy that has displaced it on the Government benches that each and every thing that has gone wrong is a legacy of the previous administration and thus the fault of the current Opposition.

Those circumstances would pose special problems for Collins. She sells herself as a politician who makes an impact.

Unless she were able to land some early and substantial hits on Ardern and other Cabinet ministers, she would be branded by her own strict standard as a failure.

The pressure to make an impact can result in Opposition party leaders creating mountains out of molehills. That is desperation politics.

Collins will almost certainly be spared such joys. According to the reports of those close to the relentless lobbying being conducted by the contenders ahead of Tuesday's ballot, Collins could count on only a handful of votes when the contest got under way in earnest following English's resignation announcement— and she can count on even less now.

There are plenty of other reasons why her caucus colleagues will continue to ignore the advice emanating from the swelling ranks of the Judith Collins Fan Club.

One of those is her being prone to serious lapses of judgment. That was never more apparent than during the Oravida saga which saw her display only a passing regard for the conflict of interest rules in the Cabinet Manual.

For someone of such intelligence, this character failing is inexplicable.

Such gaffes have made it impossible for her to lead National. That is because the party can have no guarantee that another career-shortening blunder is just around the corner.

There are even more telling reasons why those pushing Collins' cause are going to be disappointed.

The Papakura MP remains a popular figure in some quarters of her party. As voter research conducted by polling company UMR Research shows, her unfavourably rating outside those confines is uncomfortably high.

Collins is a creature of the right. She is utterly unapologetic about that. But every time she declares that National has gone "too far to the left", the more you can almost hear large chunks of votes slipping from the party's grip.

That is not lost on Collins. She has set a figure of 35 per cent as a tipping-point. If National's support slipped below that level, she would expected to be tipped out of the leadership.

If that result was replicated at election-time, however, at least a dozen MPs in National's caucus would be looking for new jobs.

Such equations are hardly an incentive to vote for the person writing them.

If nothing else, however, Collins' candidacy has highlighted the quandary facing all the contenders who are seeking to be English's successor: How do you reposition the party or at least refresh its image without losing traction with voters in the centre?

The 2017 election was many different things to many different people. But no-one would claim that the outcome flagged a wish on the part of the electorate to shift the fulcrum of political discourse and actions to the right.

If anything, it was the very opposite.

In a perfect world, National would be able to call on Collins to take out Ardern by fair means and foul. Once the job was done, Collins would be replaced by someone more accommodating to the compromises required of those playing MMP politics, rather than a relic from the dinosaur-like era of first-past-the-post politics.

Collins would then be put out to pasture; Crushersaurus Rex free to rampage harmlessly behind the very high fences of her very own Jurassic Park. As we all know, however, the world is far from perfect.

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