Friday, 26 November 2021

Judith's Last Stand.

Going Out With All Guns Blazing: Why didn’t Judith Collins stick with the strategy that had kept her, National’s most improbable of leaders, in power for more than a year? One might just as well ask why Rob Muldoon (that other unforgiving right-wing populist National Party leader) got drunk and called the snap-election that would destroy him, way back in June 1984. Or, demand to know why Jim Anderton suddenly abandoned the leadership of the Alliance in November 1994.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Seriously. What on earth possessed Judith Collins to move against Simon Bridges so maladroitly, and with so little prospect of success? It’s baffling.

The tactic employed, resurrecting a five-year-old incident that had been resolved, um, five years ago, was just so incredibly dumb. Honestly, I thought Judith Collins was a whole lot smarter than that. To take such a huge risk, she must have believed Bridges had a lock on the caucus that was unbreakable and that he intended to move against her sooner, rather than later.

Presumably, that is why Collins refused to call caucus together yesterday evening (24/11/21) as Bridges, quite understandably, demanded. She must have calculated that the move she was intending to make against her principal contender would not be approved.

As a lawyer, Collins should have known that even Bridges’ caucus enemies would require a proper process to be followed, and the rules of natural justice observed. So, according to her own testimony, she took the matter to the National Party Board instead. With their (alleged) full support, Collins then issued a media release banishing Bridges to the back-benches. His crime? Telling a dirty joke in the earshot of Waitaki MP, Jacqui Dean.

Except, that makes no sense at all. By refusing to take the matter to caucus, and beheading Bridges without their consent, all Collins did was make sure that, when the National Caucus next convened, her own head would be on the block. One had only to listen to the pure, cold, fury in the voices of National MPs as they made their way to the caucus room this morning (25/11/21) to appreciate just how hopeless Collins’ position had become.

The peculiar thing is, it could all have been done so differently – and with a much greater chance of success. Had Collins caused the information, and the precise wording of Bridges’ dirty joke, to end up in the hands of the relentless Furies of the news media, his progress towards a caucus showdown would, at the very least, have been slowed. Indeed, with the right handling, Bridges could have been “exposed” as a nasty, sexist, sleaze-bag. To paraphrase the inimitable Lyndon Johnson: Collins wouldn’t be calling her rival a “nasty, sexist, sleaze-bag”, she would be forcing him to deny it.

Surely, that would have been the smart move? She could have knifed Bridges good and proper, while leaving no fingerprints on the blade.

Collins huge advantage – before she committed “political suicide by caucus” – was that National’s caucus was split into what, from the outside, looked like four factions.

There was her own faction, of course, not that big, but not that small either. Then there were Bridges’ people, who were said to constitute a bare majority. Impressive, but also inadequate. Bridges needed to come roaring home in any contest. Just squeaking in would only leave a roughly equal number of National MPs seething and fuming behind his back. Christopher Luxon’s people were also numerous, just not as numerous as Bridges’. Finally, there were the so-called “liberals”. A small faction, but potentially crucial to securing a decisive vote for Unity and Change.

The trick was to keep all the factions in favour of a leadership change off-balance and mistrustful of each other. Let their numbers people work away, drawing up lists of “Definites” “Possibles” and “Don’t Bother Askings”. Just make sure that while they’re doing that, you’re doing everything in your power to keep the tallies inadequate to the challenge of achieving Unity and Change.

It isn’t an heroic strategy, but you’d be surprised how often in history it has succeeded. The Romans called in divide et impera – divide and rule. What it had given Collins – and was continuing to give her – was time. Time in which all manner of unpredictable things can happen. What sort of things? The sort of things which the 1960s Tory leader, Harold Macmillan, famously reduced to: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Why didn’t Collins stick with the strategy that had kept her, National’s most improbable of leaders, in power for more than a year? One might just as well ask why Rob Muldoon (that other unforgiving right-wing populist National Party leader) got drunk and called the snap-election that would destroy him, way back in June 1984. Or, demand to know why Jim Anderton suddenly abandoned the leadership of the Alliance in November 1994.

“Events, dear boy, events.” Something you didn’t expect, and can’t fix, happens, and it all just gets too much. All the plotting and scheming. All the arm-twisting and political assassinating. Suddenly, the whole shitty business no longer seems worth the effort, and the all people around you start looking too hopelessly fucked-up to bother with.

And. You. Snap.

No other explanation seems to fit. Wednesday, 24 November 2021, will go down as the day Collins simply stopped fighting. Not because she was beaten, but because she could no longer remember the point of trying so hard to win.

In the midst of a global pandemic. Facing a Labour Party whose leadership is younger, nimbler, and more attuned to the zeitgeist. In charge of a party too ideologically and socially constipated to re-join the political fray as a competitive player. Judith Collins, eyebrow raised, quietly picked up her rifle, climbed out of the trench, and started walking across no-man’s land towards the enemy. Predictably she was shot to pieces before she’d taken 100 paces.

It wasn’t pretty. But it was, at least, over.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 26 November 2021.

7 comments:

Odysseus said...

I think it was a clever move. Collins knew she was about to be overthrown and chose a weapon that would take down her challenger with her. Polls suggest the one constituency National must win over is the female vote which remains solidly behind Ardern at present. The publicity around Bridges' smutty comment will have ended his chances there. If National proceed to reappoint him as leader they are barking mad.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's going to be interesting, considering the pool of talent they have isn't that great. I'm probably going to put a few dollars on the ex-Air New Zealand CEO given that many conservatives haven't abandoned the idea that businesspeople make good politicians – even with the example of Trump. Interesting though, one of them is described as a centrist, but calls Ronald Reagan inspirational. Is this a sign of the Overton window shifting that Ronnie is considered centrist now?

The Barron said...

Politics is a serious business. Then why have I had Welsh singer Mary Hopkin in my head with the upbeat Paul McCartney penned "Goodbye"? I doubt that anyone has an ear worm of her earlier hit "Those Were the Days", maybe Simon Bridges hums it hoping to get nostalgia for his previous regime. I doubt it, his best strategy is to pretend it didn't happen. Not to labour on hits written by Sir Paul, but Bad Finger's "(If you want it) Come and Get It" could be ringing in the offices of several National MPs political advisors.

The subject of political advisors has perhaps been looked over. Previously Collins' sixteen year of Machiavellian intrigue towards the leadership included shadow figures of the dark arts. Did they abandon her? Or did they set her up? If Judith has to go, give her a suicide assignment to take Bridges out at the same time. Collins own political acumen has already been exposed as wildly overestimated by the press gallery [NB: Few sound bites being replayed by the commentators from when she took the leadership], and her ability to discern advice equally found wanting.

I have no doubt that she was naïve to her career sacrifice. Her pseudo-feminist Jacqui Dean and Collins as Thelma and Louise was an after thought (In fact Collins was driving like James Dean). The 'hit' on Bridges was never going to be fatal. The National caucus must have been glancing in all directions as Collins presented her case that being a boof-head at a party excludes them from political office. Young Nats throughout NZ had fingers on their phone's delete button. So if she did had political advisors, they were either incompetent, or their agenda was that Collins was already fatal so a flesh wound to Bridges was all they could plan for on Collins way out.

Certainly, she was the National Party's most cynical leader. It turns out she was the most inept they had had for over a year. The one thing she had done was to keep the fundamentals at bey. Following the Catholic Trinity of previous leaders, the caucus was left God-heavy. When we look at those presumed to be leadership contenders, there is a clear presence of the Moral Right.

This becomes problematic for National. If their starting point is that Labour and the Greens are not representing a zeitgeist and that national can set the country straight morally, economically and politically they may be out of touch with the populous. NZ has taken a liberal shift, if National decides to push against this it will find itself fighting for the ACT support which I believe is capped. The dream of a Kiwi Scott Morrison would be a political nightmare.

The smart play would be to capture the hegemony. Dr Reti going to Northland to help with the vaccination at the Vax-a-thon was a sincere moment and photo-shoot gold. Sincerity, professionalism and high character will probably not feature in the caucus deliberations.

That leaves Chris Bishop as the only hope. Despite continually being undermined in his Covid role by his then leader, he still has come through with credibility. Thanos-jaw would be the sensible pick for a gradual re-brand that could be seen as a credible alternative Government. It won't happen because it is a caucus built by a previous brand. The blame lies with Peter Goodfellow who has allowed candidate selection of the absurd and the out-of-touch. Where leadership comes from the rump caucus that prioritise 51% in their conservative electorates over the Nation.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.

David George said...

I don't think most women are that naïve that they'd be upset or surprised by a dirty joke or whatever it was; most of them actually live in the real world. That aside I think Nicola Willis would be a perfect foil for an election with Ardern as Labour leader, a magnet for the huge female vote currently strongly in the Ardern camp and Nationals best hope for victory.
If JA steps aside it wouldn't matter, the Right would romp home.

sumsuch said...

Hard to take an interest in our rational Right. They are always better than parts of Oz's and all of America's. When they leave behind rationality, morality and scruples I'll look into it. The orcs for that are all here -- take my four siblings preventing my 90 something mother from getting a covid immunisation and my rental agent on his flat inspection today telling me the guy shot in Auckland by the police was recorded as a covid death.

He was very aggravated -- four or five 'fucks' when that never came out before. The mandate I take.

I, obviously, have avoided entirely the very minor matter of covid for me and the species since Mum died of other causes. The stress of that offense against science/reality.

greywarbler said...

Females in all the top jobs that get publicity would make many men feel alienated, and thinking women of which there are a few, would consider it a response to momentary emotion rather than seeking the most effective leader or executive. And I am inclined to look for background motives, powerful men must be finding some advantage in this women-wave!

David George said...

Grey, my comments are not the result of a "momentary emotion"; the dynamics of politics require confrontation but a man versus woman situation requires the man to act with one hand tired behind his back. That's just the way it is in our culture, probably more so today lest the man be accused of being a bullying sexist or something,

We saw that with Bill English versus Jacinda Adern; a deference (from English) that wouldn't have occurred were they of the same sex. That's why Nicola - Jacinda would be a fairer contest, I also think she is highly capable and would make a far better PM than the incumbent though, I confess, I don't know much about her leadership abilities. I just hope the National caucus choose wisely for the sake of our country.