Judith Collins' bid to underscore 'strong team' brand in reshuffle

7:48 am on 17 July 2020

Analysis - Judith Collins has a tough job ahead selling the party's 'strong team' brand to voters.

Judith Collins announces her new lineup

National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Putting two former National Party leaders in her top line-up is a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but it could also be just the recipe for a show of unity.

Collins will make her first big policy announcement today, in an effort to move attention away from the party's internal disarray and back onto the election in just over two months.

Her reshuffle announcement yesterday revealed a lot of baggage.

A new leader chosen after a complete meltdown left the caucus little option but to resort to what had always been described as the nuclear option.

A former leader in Todd Muller, who lasted 53 days in the spotlight before throwing in the towel.

And a former former leader in Simon Bridges, who was rolled by Muller, and didn't even vote for Collins.

"I'll make no secret of the fact that I voted for Mark Mitchell, Mark is someone I've got a high regard for who was there close to me when I was leader of the National Party," he said.

"But now we've got Judith and I think she's going to do a really good job."

Collins today told Morning Report she's not fussed at the admission, saying she also publically said she voted for Muller as leader.

She said it's a free vote with no ramifications, as evidenced by Bridges high ranking in the party reshuffle announced yesterday.

"I think he's very happy with me as leader," she said.

Former National Party leader Simon Bridges stands with other members of the party after Judith Collins is announced as the new leader, taking over from Todd Muller.

Simon Bridges at the conference where Judith Collins was announced as the new leader of the National Party on 14 July. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Collins is not bothered by the number of fallen leaders she has surrounded herself with.

"This is the first time I think you'll have seen two former leaders of the National Party on the front bench with the current leader - don't you think that says a lot?''

Bridges is now number four in the party and responsible for justice and foreign affairs.

He said the party's elections prospects were better now than they have been in weeks.

"After the unsettling period of time we're in, we're actually now in a better place. A place where we can start to mount that comeback and I still think a potential path to victory for the National Party,'' Bridges said.

Muller remains on personal leave and plans to return in a fortnight - in time for the final sitting week before the House rises for the election campaign.

He is number eight on the front bench and picks up trade - a portfolio that will see him working closing with Bridges, the man he stabbed in the back a little more than two months ago.

Muller's key supporters, Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis, are also winners in the caucus reshuffle moving to seven and 13 respectively.

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Chris Bishop. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Bishop does not think the history between the two former leaders will cause problems.

"They've both made it clear they want to play an ongoing role. We've got a history in the National Party of moving together as a team, and I think Simon and Todd will be a key part of that,'' he said.

Bridges has been in touch with Muller since he quit the job on Tuesday and said he had offered his full support.

It was a week of missteps and mistruths that led to Muller's resignation after former party president Michelle Boag leaked the private details of Covid-19 patients.

The list of casualties has mounted as the days have gone on.

It started with Hamish Walker, who received the information, Muller was next, then Michael Woodhouse was stripped of the health portfolio after admitting he too received the details.

And then former deputy leader Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams both called time on their political careers yesterday morning.

National MPs Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams have both announced their retirement from politics this morning.

Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams. Photo: RNZ

Among all this, Bridges has been taking time out with his family and working on his social media game - including videos of himself in shorts and gumboots walking around with yaks.

He was happy to admit he had enjoyed being a spectator during the carnage of the previous week.

"That was really just about, one, having some fun, but secondly making clear to New Zealanders 'yep I've lost the leadership', but I still feel I've got a lot to contribute to politics, I enjoy it, and I didn't want people to think that I'd somehow gone away to sulk when the opposite is true,'' he said.

Collins will be looking to stamp her mark later this morning when she makes her first big policy speech in Auckland.

The infrastructure announcement was initially written for Muller.

She will be hoping distracting party headlines don't get in the way of her finally delivering it.

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