Posts Tagged ‘Judith Collins’

So Judith Collins was on the radio this morning, using the only political strategy in her toolbox for defense, which is of course to attack back.

I mentioned briefly in a footnote that in a couple of moments of extreme hubris, pre-Trump, I had expressed the view that I could only wish that the National Party would make Ms. Collins leader/Prime Minister, as it would practically guarantee their loss. Post-Trump we should probably be very careful about such sentiments, even if Collins is lacking a couple of the key ingredients to Trump’s success. (namely, she’s had a long career as a politician and sounds like a politician, and she doesn’t speak the language of economic populism)

While I will now promise to shut up about Dirty Politics if she becomes PM, I think it’s arguably worth throwing the kitchen sink at her during this week-long selection by the National Party, just so that all the relevant attacks against her are written down. I promise I won’t deep-dive into issues that are old, even if they are being a little resurrected by the media today. If you want the details, you should really buy Hager’s book. He is a serious journalist and doesn’t post things that aren’t backed up by facts, regardless of what the National Party tries to say.

So, what’s wrong with Collins?

  • She doesn’t seem to understand compromise. Her relevant modes are full attack and say nothing. There is no evidence that she can behave like a stateswoman, and she has never conceded to a mistake in her entire political career. She says she’s willing to work with Peters as PM, but doing so would actually require ceding some ground to him, and she’s shown no evidence that such negotiations are in her wheelhouse.
  • She would be Prime Minister of the National Party, not of New Zealand. There is no evidence she is interested in growing her constituency.
  • She is a bully, maintained an enemies list, and it seems likely that as PM she would be a hostile manager at best.
  • She incorrectly claims to have been cleared of the Oravida scandal in the Chisholm Report. That report was a narrow investigation into whether she undermined the head of the Serious Fraud Office, and essentially just an excuse to stand her down to limit National’s exposure to Hager’s criticisms. She was not cleared by any independent inquiry over her conflict of interest, in fact objectively she failed to meet ministerial standards of ethical behaviour so I’m not sure how she could have been cleared even if such an investigation were to have taken place. If you’re not capable of behaving to the ethical standard required of a minister, you shouldn’t even be considered for PM.
  • She has admitted that she still maintains contact with Cameron Slater, which ought to be a black mark against any potential PM. (Not that this makes her any worse than Key, who also colluded with his attack politics)
  • Unlike the other candidates, she doesn’t even seem capable of pretending to empathy. National has always had an empathy deficit in policy, and has needed its leader to be perceived as a compassionate conservative who can ensure that government cares about the ordinary voter. Collins doesn’t do nice.
  • She can’t name a single MP who will publicly support her. Acts like she is protecting their privacy instead. If she doesn’t even have Joyce on her side, she’s done for.
  • Collins is basically Dolores Umbridge after the nice facade has fallen. (in fact, there are some pretty decent memes out there pointing out the visual similarity, too)

Overall, there’s much to hate. Don’t support Collins, not even ironically. The men in the race right now are opportunity enough for the opposition to become the government, we don’t need to expose the country to almost a year of Judith Collins, PM.

So John Key announced today he intends to resign as Prime Minister in a week’s time, heralding the end of a political era. (or perhaps a political error, take your pick) Coverage was initially not particularly clear on whether he’s to resign from Parliament at the same time, but it looks like he’s staying until the election at least, so no by-election for Helensville1.

There are several implications of this. For those who are not political nerds, all the new Prime Minister requires to be Prime Minister is the confidence of the House. That is, a majority of Parliament has to be willing to vote for the replacement. Essentially that means it will be an internal National choice that will then be endorsed by its coalition partners. We don’t get a “by-election” or anything of the kind, and Bill English doesn’t become Prime Minister automatically because he’s the deputy. Those are the sorts of things that happen in Presidential systems, we’re a Parliamentary democracy.

The most obvious fallout is that it’s absolutely going to cost National in polling going forward, and probably even in the Party Vote in 2017. A lot of the party stability was driven by the perception that Key was unassailable as a leader, while his resignation speech has talked up his caucus colleagues, all of them has significant problems as potential Prime Ministers. Let’s go through them:

The Throwback: Bill English

English, a former Leader of the Opposition, has tried to make a run at PM before, back in the Clark era. In National Party history, he had the second-worst election campaign ever, bested only by Don Brash’s later implosion. While he’s not unpopular within the National Party, it’s likely his appeal to soft National supporters is minimal, and wouldn’t be able to hold the “Key coalition” together. There’s also a good argument that English makes more sense as Finance Minister, although if John Key is staying in Parliament post-election, they could potentially swap roles. While he hasn’t succeeded in the past, he’s also in the interesting position of probably being the most popular option with the general electorate- initial (non-scientific) polls have Bill English as a favourite to replace Key, although this could be driven by the perception that he’s also the most likely option.

Key has said that if English puts his hat in the ring, he will have Key’s vote, making him a natural choice for establishment supporters, however there’s a real risk that English would simply be a caretaker Prime Minister who doesn’t look appealing compared to Little.

The Compromise: Paula Bennett

One of the most senior MPs, Bennett has a lot of the same advantages as a potential leader that John Key does- she’s from a more modest background, she’s popular within the party, and she has support with various factions within National. In many ways she’s a middle-of-the-road choice: not too liberal, not too conservative. Not too popular with the general electorate, but popular enough with core supporters. Bennett arguably represents the best bet at continuing National’s current political strategy of populist neoliberalism, where they pair a right-wing core economic agenda with poll-driven social policy.

The Conservative: Judith Collins

Collins is a bit of an interesting case here. Previously booted from her ministerial position for conflicts of interest, Collins has long been eying the leadership position, and is a favourite of the faction most opposed to Key’s leadership style: Conservative voters. Like a lot of the potential options, Collins isn’t particularly popular outside of core National voters, unlike the others, however, she’s actually viewed very negatively in the public, possibly due to her aggressive conservatism, possibly due to her perceived corruption. Either way, Collins is something of a Trump option: an aggressive conservative populist who the opposition views as an easy road to victory, but could surprise us.

The Strategist: Steven Joyce

Joyce, also a conservative in the same faction as Collins, has largely avoided controversy in his career, but also inspires deep hatred among liberal New Zealand. He is most likely remembered as “Dildo Baggins,” for self-explanatory reasons. If you’ve been living in a hole, please go and YouTube it, the rest of us will wait.

Joyce has many of the upsides of Collins, but without her aggressive style or the stink of scandal. While he might be a more palatable option to the liberal wing of the party, he’s arguably a less effective conservative, too.

Others: Brownlee, Adams, etc…

I’m about 90% sure one of the four listed above is going to be our next Prime Minister, but there are others inside cabinet who arguably could put forward something of a case for selection. The National Party is usually pretty serious about seniority, so I expect the only other MP with a shot at the top job is Gerry Brownlee, who is honestly an objectively worse pick than any of the four listed above, and doesn’t have the social intelligence to be Prime Minister.

My money at this stage is on Bennett, as she seems the least objectionable option that is most likely to be able to duplicate Key’s strategy, and to hold their caucus together.

Whoever National pick, they’re in for a tough ride. They have eight months of actual Prime Ministering before an election campaign. They will get the benefit of Key’s experience given he’s staying on as an MP, but that’s a very short time to make any differentiations you need, get a grip on the polls and make sure you’re not losing political ground in the transition, and to ensure you have an effective political strategy that works without Key. (although if they’re lucky and smart in their pick, their current strategy will be portable to whoever their new Leader is)

Ultimately, the winner from this news seems to be Andrew Little, who has gone from anticipating a general election against a Prime Minister that was more popular than him and needed to be torn down, to a battle against a neophyte leader who might face similar issues to Goff or the pack of Davids that preceded Little as Leader of the Opposition.