No surprises as Judith Collins crashes and burns as national leader | Tim watkin

ohOn Wednesday morning, the most vicious thing the New Zealand opposition party has faced was the television appearance of former leader Simon Bridges, grinning like a Cheshire cat, declaring he didn ‘t had no intention of challenging Judith Collins for leadership.

Within 24 hours, the National Party became a mess.

Poll after poll showing the party may decide to impeach Collins, I reached out to MPs Wednesday morning to get a feel for what they were thinking.

One of the replies confirmed that Simon Bridges was serious about a challenge and foresightedly added that “Judith would fight him in a hardcore fashion.” How hardcore became clear Wednesday night when Collins, without consulting his caucus or Bridges, accused her rival of “serious misconduct” towards a fellow MP, now known as Jacqui Dean. Collins said she was removing Bridges from her portfolio responsibilities because of comments at a caucus event five years ago, which she called “harassment.”

We’ve since learned that the seemingly outlandish comments were part of a group discussion about ‘old wives’ tales’ about how Bridges and his wife might plot to have a daughter after having two boys. Whether voters see such comments as beyond pallor, time will tell. But most of his caucus seem to have concluded that the tone and timing – and the fact that Bridges had been reprimanded for them and apologized at the time – didn’t seem to warrant a late night sacking. It was a flamethrower game that would do as much damage to the party as it did to Bridges. Burn the village to save the affairs of the village. So Collins arrived in Parliament on Thursday to face furious colleagues and quickly lost a vote of no confidence.

That Collins’ tenure ends with a fireball is one of the less surprising events of the past 10 tumultuous years of New Zealand politics. A decade when the two main parties – Labor and National – had 11 leaders.

Collins has always been combustible and polarizing. As a minister, she reveled in the nickname “Crusher”, based on her policy of crushing the cars of high-speed drivers and her famous commitment to “reward” her political opponents for “doubling” the pain they gave her. have inflicted. She had said that if you cannot be loved, it is better to be feared. And whatever you thought of Bridges’ sin, it was the politics of fear and “reward” that she couldn’t resist.

While Collins as a leader tried to curb her more brutal tendencies, the misjudged press release reminded everyone of what she is capable of. And while national deputies seek something to counter the mark of “kindness” attached to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, they sent the clear message on Thursday that these kinds of tactics are not what they are looking for.

It’s fitting that Collins’ leadership exploded the very day Labor announced the end of New Zealand’s MIQ (managed isolation) system. It’s a big step from the country’s lockdown era and National has sent out press releases condemning Labor as being out of touch, “making it up as it goes” and rushing change “under tremendous pressure”.

The government is struggling to choose the right time to move. What is too early or too late? How much will the public take?

Replace “MIQ” with “Collins”, however, and the truth is you could say the exact same thing about National. Crusher Collins, as a leader, had become Lockdown Collins.

Just as Labor had long known they would one day have to ease border restrictions, National MPs had long known they would have to face the fact that Collins was never going to win them in the next election. Just as many New Zealanders became frustrated with the impression of being stuck, national MPs grew impatient at failing to shake up the government and improve the party’s polls. And like MIQ, Collins was only meant to serve a temporary purpose when she was elected Chief in July 2020. Always ambitious and never a unifying figure, she was a necessity, a way to save time until then. that better options present themselves.

National has had a tough few weeks trying to figure out whether Collins should leave before or after Christmas. She saved them from this dilemma. But the party now faces the kind of soul-searching and infighting voters hate the most, just when the government is most vulnerable and New Zealand’s other right-wing party, ACT, is at its strongest. .

The caucus is divided and there is nothing over the past few years to suggest that the talent pool at its disposal is very large. How is it telling that, until last night, the favorite was a retread candidate whose poll scores as Preferred Prime Minister just two years ago were even lower than Collins’ today? We’ll see soon, as the caucus will elect a new leader next Tuesday.

Whoever wins will be challenged to leave their mark through the political wasteland of summer, then return to parliament in the New Year just as the borders open, New Zealanders begin to return home and – God willing – a sense of normalcy begins to return.

Acting party leader Shane Reti said the party “will stand up and look up to the horizon.” It was an encouraging line for his troops, but Bridges’ assessment was more honest. He said National was starting from a weak base and “there is still a huge amount of work to be done.”

The facts are that National has now gone through four leaders since he lost power in 2017. He’s still one behind the Labor tally when he was in opposition 2008-2011. But National still has plenty of time before the 2023 election to catch up.

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