Judith Collins will head to Wellington to face the consequences of her party’s dismal election result, and potentially a fight for her job as leader of the National Party.
The election result was devastating for National and means the party has lost a number of experienced MPs.
The writing appeared to be on the wall from the outset last night.
With less than 15 per cent of the vote counted, National Party president Peter Goodfellow had already essentially conceded defeat.
“30 [per cent] is a great base to run a strong opposition,” he said.
Senior MP Mark Mitchell said there was no way to anticipate such a loss and losing so many MPs was “devastating”.
There were a lot of grim faces as the few supporters who were at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron watched the coverage – at its peak there were only roughly 75 supporters at the event.
For close to two hours, the only MP at the event was Melissa Lee.
Collins made it clear in the last week of the campaign that she intended to try to stay in the job she had wanted for a long time in the event of a defeat.
She also reversed from her previous statement, made in 2018, that 35 per cent was the threshold at which a leader of the National Party should step down.
It ends a roller-coaster campaign for Collins, in which she will feel the deck was stacked against her.
In the last days of the campaign, Collins pointed to the “quiet New Zealanders” who she believed would vote National but were not showing their hands in the polls.
It was a reference to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s poll-defying win, to which he attributed the “quiet Australians”.
However, those quiet New Zealanders did not come through for her. Her campaign had low moments, and some highs – but was at least never boring.
Collins took over a poisoned chalice when she got the leadership in July after Covid-19 wrought a dramatic change in fortunes for the National Party in the polls.
Its polling collapsed from the mid 40s in March down to a low of 29 per cent at the point former leader Simon Bridges was rolled by Todd Muller.
The attempt to save it by changing leaders ultimately failed – Muller himself stood down after anxiety attacks.
Despite Collins’ comparatively good showings in the preferred Prime Minister polls of about 20 per cent, the disruptions and instability within National proved too much for her to haul the party out of the doldrums.
Her campaign faltered in the first few weeks after the second Covid-19 breakout brought it to a dramatic halt just two days before Collins’ big campaign launch.
The delay in the election brought some more time – but Collins was up against both Covid-19 lockdowns in Auckland, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holding daily press conferences to deal with that second breakout.
Collins began again strongly enough, out-performing Ardern in the first two debates on TVNZ and Newshub and releasing some attention-grabbing policies. Her biggest play was the policy for temporary income tax cuts.
Collins’ main campaign plank was National’s record on economic management, which National had hoped would draw voters back as the economic hit of Covid-19 became apparent.
However, Labour’s discovery of a $4 billion “hole” in National’s fiscal plan ended up overshadowing the policy and denting National’s claim to the economic management high ground.
National claim to a “strong team” also lost credibility after the leadership changes and several resignations.
Collins herself performed well on the campaign, but there were grim moments such as a walkabout down Ponsonby Rd with set-up encounters with supporters.
Perhaps the most damaging was the leak of an email from MP Denise Lee to caucus complaining about Collins’ decision to announce a policy to review Auckland Council without consulting her.
It served to further highlight disunity in the caucus.
In the last two weeks Collins’ was also up against footage of throngs of people surrounding Ardern on her “walkabouts”.
Rather than try to compete, Collins shifted her focus to trying to hold on to National’s core base. Her messaging changed to trying to dissuade National voters from splitting their vote.
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