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Collins takes the nuclear option

Editorial

On the back of more poor polling figures for the National Party and especially her personal rating as preferred prime minister, and amid growing commentary that her days as leader are numbered and a challenge from former leader Simon Bridges is imminent, Judith Collins took the nuclear option last night.

In a 9.25pm media release sent out after a discussion with board members but not her caucus, Collins demoted Bridges and stripped him of his responsibilities over an accusation he made an inappropriate comment to (or it was overheard by) Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean in early 2017. Apparently it was a comment about a sex technique to conceive a girl.

“Under my leadership, the National Party will not tolerate harassment and intimidation of any person,” Collins said in her statement, after claiming she had only now been made aware of the “seriousness of the complaint” and “ongoing distress” for the complainant.

Bill English was leader at the time and he handled the complaint, with Bridges apologising to Dean. Most MPs and the board were unaware of the incident until last night.

This morning Bridges described Collins’ action as “truly desperate”, saying it showed “she’ll go to any length to hold on to the leadership of the National Party”.

MPs were clearly frustrated and upset about the situation on their way into an emergency caucus meeting this morning, with several indicating they felt that Collins was not fit to remain as leader.

Mark Mitchell said Collins’ move against Bridges was “deeply disrespectful” to caucus, with MPs — including Bridges — “blindsided” by her statement.

In a week when the Government is pushing major changes in its Covid response through Parliament under urgency, and just revealed a cautious approach to reopening to the world — and closing down a managed isolation system that has been a constant source of negative stories — the dysfunction of the main Opposition party is again taking up all the political oxygen.

At the time of going to press, reporters had been waiting one and three-quarter hours for a touted 10am briefing from Collins, her deputy Shane Reti, and Jacqui Dean.

As the caucus meeting has continued long past its scheduled close, it is clear there has been a vote of no confidence in Collins’ leadership. Who will emerge to brief the media, flanked by supporters — Collins? Reti as an interim leader? Bridges? Or maybe one of the Chris’s, Bishop or Luxon?