James Elliott sums up a week of National Party chaos propelled by vintage smut and late night stripping

Welcome to Black Friday. There are discounts everywhere – 60 percent off beds at Harvey Norman, 70 percent off ZIP frypans at Briscoes and 100 percent off Judith Collins’ chances of ever becoming Prime Minister. To be fair, as the first rays sun brightened the eastern sky at 5.45am on Wednesday morning, the odds of Judith Collins becoming Prime Minister weren’t all that great to start with.

But before the sun would rise again this morning she was toast. And not just toast, toast that had been heavily charred in a toaster and then scorched under a grill to the point where the smoke alarms had run out of steam. Toast, whose only use could be as a raw material to be ground into a kohl eyeliner and applied only to be smudged and streaked by the tears of bitter disappointment. And all of this all the more remarkable because it was Judith Collins herself who had carried out the charring, the scorching, the grinding, and the smudging. This was a faux pas, placed inside a boo-boo box, secured with gaffe tape and tied up with blunder ribbon.   

This, in case you missed it, was Collins demoting Simon Bridges and stripping him of all his portfolios, following a complaint by Bridges’ caucus colleague Jacqui Dean about inappropriate remarks by Bridges at a caucus retreat. Inappropriate remarks made by Bridges at a caucus retreat five years ago. Bridges was overheard asking caucus colleague Jacqui Deans as to the best ‘method’ to try and conceive a girl, and it wasn’t whether the mother-to-be should be on a diet of spinach, nuts and broccoli. So, inappropriate five years ago and inappropriate now, but even more inappropriate to be used politically five years later as a pretext for shivving a leadership rival.     

Just how inappropriate? Well, Simon O’Connor described Collins’ demotion of Simon Bridges as “downright appalling” and “unconscionable” which is the equivalent of an expletive-laden rant from a man who blushes when he’s reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It should also be noted that Simon O’Connor is Simon Bridges’ brother-in-law so this was also a case of bros-before-those-who-would-demote-one-of-those-bros.

Judith Collins’ late night press release on Wednesday also announced a press conference for 10am on Thursday. There was no 10am press conference. Instead, within 12 hours of the press release, give or take an hour or so but definitely less than 5 years, Judith was gone as National Party leader leaving the political commentariat scrabbling to finish the sentence, “The most remarkable political suicide in New Zealand since …”. Well, probably since Rob Muldoon called a snap election in 1984. But in defence of Muldoon he was at least drunk at the time.

Judith Collins didn’t just hammer nails into her own political coffin, she secured the coffin lid with one-way slotted and drilled spanner security screws – the ones with centre rejection pins. Not that she sees it that way. She was defiant till the end, regretting nothing and probably plotting revenge as you read this. It’s too soon to say whether National has stamped out the Collins leadership variant for good. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that elimination is really hard to achieve.  

Now that the clouds of toast powder have settled and the dying bleeps of exhausted smoke alarms have faded away we have learned that Dr Shane Reti is the interim National Party leader and the new leadership contest now underway in earnest.   

We have also seen some world-class sartorial trolling with Tova O’Brien, adorned in vivid Act Party yellow, vigorously vox popping National MPs as to who that new leader might be. I pegged Tova’s unmissable yellow as a colour-coded reference to Schrodinger’s elephant in the National Party caucus room. They don’t just have to pick someone with better popularity credentials than Judith Collins – that could be anyone from inside National’s caucus room including the pot plants – they have to pick a new leader with better popularity credentials than David Seymour. Does Simon Bridges get to write an epilogue to his book? Is it time for Mark Mitchell? Or does Christopher Luxon become the new John Keys? We’ll find out next week. You’d be forgiven for forgetting there’s a pandemic on.

Have a peaceful weekend.

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