For years Judith Collins has bided her time. She has strategized against leaders, but just as quickly sheathed the knife when presented with a like minded National Party leader. Leaders have come. Leaders have gone. Ms Collins has waxed and waned – until the extremely topsy turvy year that 2020 has thus far been. With two leadership changes in as many months, and National staring down the barrel of an electoral defeat of epic portions, Team Collins of Papakura pounced.
Now with Gerry Brownlee, M.P. for Ilam as her deputy there is an air of purpose in the National Party. Mr Brownlee, the controversial Minister of Earthquake Recovery But as we shall see, it might have also galvanized the left-wing of New Zealand politics. Determined that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern not only gets a second term, but that a thumping victory accompanies it, coupled with the exemplary response to COVID19, Labour and the Greens will be pulling out the stops to ensure a rejuvenated National Party is held in check.
Classic blue National will be feeling motivated by the election of Ms Collins and Mr Brownlee as Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party and thus Leader/Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Their respective profiles in New Zealand politics are unmistakable. One is a conservative girl who grew up with Labourite parents, and was a lawyer before entering politics. Under the Key Government she held the Police and Corrections portfolios before being given Justice. Mr Brownlee is a former wood work teacher from St Bedes school in Christchurch who has held the Ilam electorate for nearly 30 years. In the Key Government he was first Minister of Energy and Resources, a reward for agreeing not to challenge Mr Key, and then after the Canterbury earthquake sequence started, Minister for Earthquake Recovery.
With her promise to completely scrap the Resource Management Act 1991, Judith Collins has fulfilled one part of National’s classic agenda, by removing so called red tape restrictions on businesses. The same promise will be welcomed by A.C.T., industry and civil libertarians. Another policy area that she has announced proposals on is a cut to the corporate tax rate, which she says would be significant. Coupled with a plan to significantly reduce public spending and rewrite the climate change legislation, we are seeing a clear reversion back to an agenda that one might have expected from them in 2005.
In some respects it might be argued that this is precisely what the left-wing of New Zealand politics wanted: National electing a known attack dog who does not mind upsetting a few people whilst doubling down on enacting old policies that New Zealand is starting to realize the true cost of, might very well encourage Labour and/or Green voters who had planned to stay home to vote.
Ms Collins may have in fell swoop destroyed the Blue Green movement of the wider National Party, just as its grass roots were trying to revive it. Not all farmers can be called environmental vandals or irresponsible water hogs as some on the left I am sure would be keen to label them. The majority are compliant even if they do not like the rules. A growing number are coming to understand that they need to be better stewards of the land they work. As a perhaps unfortunate result, just as the right wing of the party suddenly see a brighter future for National, the more left leaning Members of Parliament such as Amy Adams, Nikki Kaye and others might be feeling somewhat put out by the events of the last 36 hours.
There is also a high probability that those repulsed by Ms Collins’ past with the Oravida scandal and the dirty politics exposed in Dirty Politics, by Nicky Hager, will help to galvanize her opponents on the left. Her vow to rewrite the climate change legislation, apparent indifference to diversity in her line up will anger the Greens. Coupled with Mr Brownlee’s middling track record on Christchurch, his interest in mining on conservation estate and support of some of the rougher political argy bargy have left him with a reputation of being toxic.
There is still two months to go before the 2020 General Election and Parliament still has a couple of sitting weeks left in which policy announcements and exposure of further improper conduct could come to light. But one gets the feeling that the election campaign is already well and truly underway. And with National’s policy lines taking on a definitive shade of classic blue, the choices that voters will face on 19 September 2020 are potentially stark.