14 Oct 2020

Judith Collins' final week attacks 'bizarre', 'desperate' - pundits

6:44 am on 14 October 2020

Political commentators say Judith Collins' efforts to ramp up attacks against Labour in the final week of the election campaign appear to be an effort to shore up support from her party's base.

Judith Collins in Wellington

National leader Judith Collins on the attack, in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The National Party leader came out swinging against Labour on Tuesday, labelling Jacinda Ardern a liar, before claiming yet again that Labour would introduce a wealth tax if it could - a claim the party has rejected many times.

Political commentator and former National staffer Ben Thomas says it's clear Collins is being more provocative in the final week of the campaign.

"Her incentives to do that are, she's looking at bleeding a fair few votes to other parties on the centre right, in particular ACT, and ... it's an attempt to inject some relevance and appear as if the contest is a one-on-one battle between the National leader and the Labour leader."

"I think that when you start accusing a party leader we know has very high favourability ratings, very high trust levels, calling them a liar, that you're not going for median voters, you're not going for those centre voters there.

"You're really trying to appeal to that base."

Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas Photo: Supplied

The language being employed by Collins doesn't "come from a position of strength", he says.

Former United Future leader Peter Dunne thinks Collins' comments were "a little bizarre".

"I think they reflect the fact that National's now not looking to win over uncommitted voters, so much as hold its own base in line, and I think this is what these comments were directed at."

It comes across as desperate, he says.

"I think National now is in a hold-the-line mode, rather than a win mode."

But he also has this to say: "This election is very unusual in the way it's panned out. I think National has gone from earlier in the year, pre-Covid, looking more than likely to win the election, to now looking most unlikely to do so. And I think they've had some trouble adjusting to the change in public mood.

"That's why some of the comments do sound pretty desperate.

"I think some of the internal manoeuvrings look a bit strange as well. And I think it's more because they know they've got a situation they're not going to do well in, they're trying to staunch the wound, so to speak."

Long campaign, long year

University of Auckland politics lecturer Dr Lara Greaves says it's been a long campaign and a "very" long year.

"I think potentially at this point of the campaign more of the mistakes start to slip in, whereas earlier on people sort of had the energy, had the fight in them.

But at this point there's a lot of talk of her not doing so well ... there's a lot of pressure on Judith Collins at the moment, and you can see some of the mistakes really coming in."

Lara Greaves

Dr Lara Greaves. Photo: supplied

She says it's hard to know if Collins' negativity is a strategy or not.

"It's kind of unclear exactly who she is trying to appeal to here. I mean at this point, around half of the voters have voted. It's not clear whether this is something that a swing voter or fence-sitter would be that into.

"Potentially she is trying to look towards that National Party base, trying to take some voters from ACT, or some old New Zealand First voters from those segments that are a little more fiery and would view some of those comments she's made today as a little more acceptable."

She doesn't necessarily think it will win over swing voters.

"I think realistically, she's just trying to save the furniture, and it's not really clear that this is a good strategy for that."

Post-election rebuild

Greaves says National needs to do some rebuilding and thinking about what a right wing party looks like in 2020 - and whether Collins should stay on as leader.

"It wouldn't be bizarre if she stayed on as leader, but it's going to be really hard for her."

Peter Dunne

Former United New Zealand leader Peter Dunne Photo: RNZ

Dunne says National needs to take a "good hard look at themselves" post-election.

"I think if you look back over the last three years, National probably wasted two years of that lamenting the fact it wasn't the government after the last election.

"I think if they are to be serious contenders in 2023 they've got to start from Sunday really, focusing on how they're going to win that election, and stopping their own infighting and getting their act together."

Thomas says every party has to do a stocktake after a defeat.

"It will be a bit of a shock for National after the election. In 2017 they weren't returned to government but their caucus was essentially still the same size, they were still the largest party, they still had a lot of that core of the Key-English government left, it'll be a wholly different situation after this election.

"They will lose a lot of seats, they will be a much smaller party in Parliament, and that will require a lot of reflection. They way the go about things and the way they position themselves will have to change."

Judith Collins will be hitting the streets of Hamilton today, while Jacinda Ardern will be on the trail in Christchurch.

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