It’s possibly a stunning testament to Collins’ deep-seated loathing of the left that her leadership managed to disprove Marx’s statement that history repeats. Her leadership was simultaneously tragic and farcical — tending towards the latter as the last days approached.
When John Key stepped down in 2016, Collins was the first to announce her candidacy. When Bill English stepped down in 2018, Collins was the first to announce her candidacy. And finally when Todd Muller’s anxiety-inducing 55 days in charge was brought to an end, she was waiting to capitalise upon an exhausted and punch-drunk caucus.
It brought the worst result since a young Bill English in 2002. A caucus reduced to just 33 seats, and many of the occupants of those seats leftovers from the Key-English Government, the Bridges Opposition, the Muller fever-dream. Some thought that the vastly experienced Collins was the best choice at the time, or at least the least worst choice.
Judith Collins was iconic. Unlike the various thumb-shaped men who are routinely pushed as the next big thing, or the slightly crumpled ex-cops or teenage ganglers who couldn’t cut it in business — with Collins there was a definitive image. The cardigans, the blonde hair, the eyebrows telling you if she was joking, the mouth a tight line. Was she Aotearoa’s Thatcher? She certainly had the ambition and the ruthlessness, if never any of the success or political nous.
Her reputation was earned via associations with bloggers and the harder-right hangmen of the political right, acerbic interviews and occasionally just straight up losing her cool with interviewers who she thought were being rude. Crusher Collins, who only ever crushed three vehicles with the legislation that earned her the nickname, was one of the more recognisable National politicians but not one of those that was liked, or loved.
She did recognise that National had a problem. The problem though, in part, was Judith Collins. She’d been ahead in the public polls about who should be National leader in 2018, but Simon Bridges had succeeded after two rounds of voting. The caucus didn’t back her then, and…