Auckland, July 15, 2020
The exit of Todd Muller as the Leader of the National Party had a rippling effect among the frontbenchers across the treasury in Parliament, but the hoo-ha died down as quickly as it rose; in fact, it was so short-lived that it went almost unnoticed.
Judith Collins, who emerged as the Leader last night (July 14, 2020) was perhaps a candidate of convenience and an antidote to the smote that National had suffered. She was in effect the instrument of painless change, orchestrating a move which could have otherwise caused ruptures.
Clearly, the Nats cannot afford another division.
For all the smear campaigns that he suffered during the last days in office, Mr Muller may not have been directly responsible for the implosion, but some of his own colleagues in the National Caucus did things that were unforgivable. Leaking names of Covid-19 patients to the media and scaremongering the public with unsubstantiated accusations were distasteful.
Even as people were worried about their own health and the risk of Covid-19 spreading, the National Party leadership and some MPs have been taking cudgels against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the government for their translucency, without realising the glasshouse effect.
Keeping the government under pressure
They were too willing to have a go at all their political opponents, interrogating their honesty and integrity, without realising that they may one day be ensnared in their own words.
But arguably, it is the opposition’s call to keep the government under check and pressure, giving the ministers a run for their policies and even the money they earn.
The Nats have done their job well on that score; but in terms of enunciating policies and programmes and readiness to take over the mantle of governance should there be a need, they have thus far failed to impress.
Although thrillingly effective in the gladiatorial arena of the debating chamber in Parliament and, from Collins’ point of view, a welcome endorsement of her leadership credentials, Mr Muller’s imagery seemed less well-judged this week.
A look at the past
We are reminded of the scene about 15 years ago in which Dr Don Brash, John Key and Bill English were important players. Mr Key had looked rattled at the time. But he and his team quickly realised that the picture conjured up by some senior members of the Party Caucus of Bill English lumbering after his sprightlier rival intent on smashing in his head, was a gift.
Almost as problematic was the general depiction of Mr Muller as a lightweight who peddles sunshine and hope without ever having ‘taken a tough decision’ in his life.
Although designed to contrast him not just with Dr Brash, Mr Key or Mr English but with the grizzled veterans within and without, Mr Muller had made truth psychologically more complex.
Mr Muller’s downfall
Ms Collins may have seen in Mr Muller some of the callowness that he now despises in his role as the Party Leader- that earlier self whose optimism and inexperience contributed to the frittering away of the Party’s chances in the ensuring General Election.
As it happens, despite the dearth of policies, there is nothing insubstantial about the way in which Mr Muller prepared himself to take on his opponents, not the least from within his own camp.
The somewhat successful first few days of his leadership, which was all about changing perceptions of the Party, began to merge into the next.
The National Party is clearly at crossroads now. Time will tell whether it move forward or even stay put. But chances are that Ms Collins will steer ahead, keeping to the centre.