National’s electoral slaughter | The Jackal

24 Oct 2020

National’s electoral slaughter

Judith (Crusher) Collins
We all agree that the 2020 general election was a complete disaster for the National Party. Not only did the blue “team” receive only 26.8 per cent support, the results also left those who did unwisely back the National Party with a lingering bad taste in their mouths.

In fact the more time National takes faffing about with reviews into why they polled so terribly, the more voters will perceive that National is in complete disarray. Despite this fact, National doesn’t seem to realise that time is of the essence and wasting more of it naval gazing isn’t going to fix things. As well as creating even more resentment within the party towards the current leadership, this will ensure National’s voter base continues to dwindle.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some National Party MPs have been saying about the causes of their defeat and their current divisive and disingenuous leader, Judith Collins.

Today, Stuff reported:

Election 2020: The 'complete disarray' of National's campaign that led to electoral 'slaughter'

Throughout September and October, Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern flew into at least one region on each day, visiting local businesses, shaking hands and capturing selfies.

But as Collins criss-crossed the country, chasing ever dwindling poll numbers, she too fell victim to the Cunliffe curse.

“If I had her in my electorate, it was actually a net negative for me,” one National MP confided.

“I’m capable of locking in our National supporters myself. But I need to appeal to the centre voters to get our party vote up, and Judith doesn’t appeal to the centre. She’s our Cunliffe.”

Her colleagues found it hard to stomach pleas for loyalty. “She’s destabilised three leaders. She did John Key in 2014, she completely destabilised Simon Bridges, and she was behind the coup with Todd Muller,” one MP fumed.

Another raged: “It is pretty hard when two months earlier she put out a book bagging John Key. That woman held a grudge for six years! She needed to lead by example.”

A few days later, Collins was hobbled by a catastrophic own goal: Goldsmith was forced to admit multi-billion-dollar errors in his budget. The first overshadowed Collins’ campaign launch and National lost its best weapon – economic credibility.

There were few people to blame. The leadership team gave candidates little notice of the economic plan, which included a controversial pitch to cut taxes, despite Collins previously ruling that out.

“Policy was a disaster zone,” one incredulous MP said. “All we saw at the start was big spending – whether it was Bishop [on infrastructure], Willis on education, or Reti on health.

“They were coming up with big numbers and that was a massive mistake because it made us indistinguishable from Labour.”

The tax cuts confused voters, the MP believes. “[Finance Minister] Grant Robertson made the best point of the entire campaign: we’d fallen into some sort of economic Bermuda triangle. We were going to spend everything, but we were also going to be better on debt, and provide tax relief.”

“It evolved from the low energy into the Crusher,” an MP explained. “But ... because it hadn’t started that way, it was confusing and inauthentic.”

Another MP disliked the straight-from-the-heart, unscripted style. “The second [Newshub] debate really put a line under it. The one where she just went a bit crazy … she went very shouty, talking to herself and giggling to herself.

“The whole thing fell apart. Gerry and her fundamentally started disagreeing on issues and she apparently had a huge blow-up at the campaign team because she felt they were trying to make her too soft.

“She started to harden up, and become the Crusher again. They were trying to keep her on message, with a softer face to try and appeal to the middle voter ... And middle New Zealand switched off her completely.”

From the inside, the campaign careered off the rails. Two weeks out from the election, one MP complained to Stuff: “If you think it looks bad, it’s even worse.”

“The central campaign was a disaster,” a National MP sighed. “Candidates were getting collateral [advertising material] very late, we saw collateral go out there with wrong spelling, graphics had our numbers wrong.”

There was frustration that the new team entirely shut out Paula Bennett, who’d amassed and absorbed a treasure trove of data over months.

“For a good year, [Gerry] was critical of Paula,” one seasoned MP said. “They didn’t get on personality-wise, he was clear in his head that he could do much better. Then he got there and didn’t know what to do.

“He has certain skills but an organisational brain to run a campaign just isn’t one of those areas.

The cracks become obvious. On October 5, an email emerged in which first-term MP and Auckland Council spokesperson Denise Lee criticised Collins for not consulting her about a new local body policy.

“All of the experienced MPs from the John Key and Bill English governments, we know what discipline is,” a departing MP said. “[Judith] made that decision and that is the leader’s prerogative.

“Let’s be honest about the class of 2017: they have been the bane in National’s life. There has been nothing but leaks, a sense of self-entitlement and real arrogance … Is it any wonder this email was sent and leaked, was it written to be leaked?

“That was our demise. I believe Judith when she said it probably took about five points off us.”

She digressed into fat-shaming, accused Jacinda Ardern of lying, goaded the Labour leader to sue her, and then accused her rival of name-calling. There were attacks on the media, and an incautious explanation of how, as a tax lawyer, she used to help people avoid inheritance tax.

“What typified the whole campaign for me was we had [Brownlee], our deputy leader and campaign manager in the media, explaining that he is responsible for his own obesity,’’ one MP said. ‘’How mad is that? How off-topic is that?”

Another explained: “None of them were talking to each other. Judith would say what she wanted at the media standups because there wasn’t anyone else giving her clear direction, certainly in the last two weeks.”

Others don’t accept that analysis. “Gerry and Judith both share fault in this. It’s galling to see them portraying themselves as reluctant heroes, who it was thrust upon.

“Judith crawled over broken glass for a decade to get this job, she isn’t some Joan of Arc figure. Sadly, when she got there, there was nothing. She didn’t even have an A4 of a plan.”

Another said: “She has had her day. She is from a bygone era. She’s brittle, I don’t believe she is the face of National and she definitely won’t be the leader going into ‘23.”

So at what point does Judith Collins stop making excuses and put the party ahead of her own self-interest? In my opinion she must take responsibility for National’s resounding defeat by stepping down to let a more capable and credible leader take her place.

Let’s also not forget Crusher’s previously held belief that anywhere below 35 per cent in a general election should trigger a change in National's leadership. But now that she’s assumed command Collins has reneged on her own stipulated cutoff mark.

Crusher has also said that she won’t go willingly. So it’s up to the National Party to oust her. This must happen if New Zealand is to have an opposition that actually works, which is required in order for our democracy to properly function. Because if Crusher is allowed to stay on we will simply see a continuance of the same disorganisation exhibited over National's disastrous 2020 election campaign.