A couple of weeks ago when she released her book, I interviewed Judith Collins on Q+A.
Collins is maybe the single-most accessible senior politician in New Zealand. We’ve had plenty of back-and-forths over the years but I can think of few times when she hasn’t made herself available for an interview. I suspect that on more than a few occasions over the years she’s actually defied the wishes of her party leader by agreeing to appear in interviews. It’s better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission. That might tell you something about her personal ambitions but whether you love her or hate her, you’d have to agree… Judith Collins does well in front of the camera. There’s a reason she’s so well-known.
Anyway, it’s always interesting to come off-air after an interview and consider the interesting or new bits of information that might have come up. Amongst all the questions I asked about John Key, Oravida, and Dirty Politics, I asked Judith Collins a simple question:
‘Who are your best friends in parliament?’
Her answer was really interesting. She didn’t name senior MPs. She didn’t name anyone with whom she’d served in cabinet. There were no Anne Tolleys, Nikki Kayes, or Nick Smiths. She named Simeon Brown, David Bennett, Maureen Pugh, Matt King, and Harete Hipango. Be honest… if you passed them in the street… how many of those MPs would you even recognise? It tells you something that Judith Collins’ best mates are all people who came to parliament after her. Well after her. Simeon Brown was 11 when Judith Collins first became an MP.
From that answer I think we can probably deduce that Judith Collins has not been super-popular with her caucus mates. And yet it seems inevitable, now, with just a few day’s hindsight, that she should be the leader to seize the reigns after the Todd Muller debacle. We humans love a story, don’t we? And Judith Collins in charge just feels kind of like – gulp– dare I say destiny?
In the eyes of the public, I really don’t think the Muller debacle has hurt National all that much. The party wasn’t doing great before he took over. Are they better or worse off than where they were two months ago? We’ll wait for the polls. But Collins has been decisive and swift where Muller dithered. She’s comfortable with the gallery press pack. She’s whipped her caucus into line. Anyone would think she’d been planning a shadow cabinet all of her life.
I said when Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister that I thought Judith Collins would be the most effective leader of the opposition. Not because of her new ideas or visionary policy or anything like that, but because I thought she’d do a better job than anyone else of undermining the government, and putting pressure on the Prime Minister. I stand by that.
There will be significant pressure on Collins, as well. She has baggage. The tough-woman persona will be off-putting to some voters, and attractive to others who find the Prime Minister’s constant kindness message condescending.
But I thought the political commentator Ben Thomas summed it up perfectly this week when he considered the National leadership change. Yes, Judith Collins might be divisive. She might not be hugely personally popular with her colleagues. But Ben was spot on when he said Judith Collins as leader of the opposition will make the government more nervous than any other National MP.