• The Risks of Collins As Leader

    Having lost yet another leader in quick succession, the National party was clearly so desperate to find a successor that they turned to someone whose earlier bids to become leader they had already twice rejected.

    It may not be clear why Judith Collins should suddenly have become National’s saviour after her earlier rejections; and it is hard to understand why the factors that counted against her in the past should suddenly have become of little account and have been overlooked on this occasion.  Perhaps National supporters hope that the voters will have short memories.

    It is worth reminding ourselves, however, of just why she was thought to have disqualified herself from high office.   Her close links to Cameron Slater, he of the notorious Whale Oil blog, earned her a reputation as an enthusiastic practitioner of what came to be called “dirty politics” – Slater had, after all, praised her publicly as his “mentor” – and her approach to politics was well documented in Nicky Hager’s book entitled “Dirty Politics”.  Her philosophy was summed up in the advice she offered to Slater to the effect that if someone tried to hurt you, you should hit them back twice as hard, and that “if you can’t be loved, it’s best to be feared”.

    This attitude was confirmed in the pleasure she seems to take in the nickname “Crusher” – something she is still keen to highlight, (though only three boy racer’s cars were ever actually crushed).

    Of somewhat more substance is the episode when, as a member of John Key’s government, she was “stood down” by the then Prime Minister and stripped of the title “Honourable.”. He disciplined her for allowing a conflict of interest to develop when, on a ministerial visit to China at the taxpayer’s expense, she attended meetings concerned with her husband’s private business interests, and then sought to conceal that fact by giving a misleading account of the reason why she had undertaken a particular journey.

    Even National voters were inclined to regard this history, and these episodes and attitudes as enough to make her unelectable, and she was accordingly treated for a long time as electoral bad news and a hard sell to voters.  Perhaps National will hope she has mellowed and that the voters will see a more conciliatory politician; but, without her much-trumpeted “toughness”, what else does she have to offer?

    Whether or not “Crusher” Collins is the real Judith Collins, can we really be convinced that more aggression and nastiness – whether real or manufactured – is what we need in our politics or in any other area of our national life?  I would suggest that more kindness is what is needed – and that, as between kindness and “toughness”, kindness wins out every time.

    And if we feel that we have a need for leaders with courage and strength, haven’t we just had and seen the prime example of a leader who was ready and able to take the “tough” decisions and to provide the leadership to guide us successfully through a great national crisis? 

    Electing Judith Collins as leader has to be, for National, a triumph of hope over experience.

    Bryan Gould

    16 July 2020