Power Play: Judith Collins' reaction to Covid-19 criticism risks familiar public backlash

9:38 am on 2 September 2021

Power Play - Covid-19 can make or break political leaders and Judith Collins looks like a leader in danger of cracking.

Judith Collins at the first Question time and sitting of the House  in alert level 4 lockdown in the House of Representatives debating chamber.


The National Party leader only has to look back to last year's lockdown and Simon Bridges about the perils of hitting the wrong note.

A Facebook post criticising the government response was to be his undoing, and Collins' extraordinary interview on Breakfast television yesterday runs the same risk.

She's clearly riled by criticism of her travelling to Parliament and bringing a number of MPs with her; not breaking the rules but in itself raising questions of judgement.

Collins has two capable, Wellington-based MPs, one of whom - Chris Bishop - is the party's Covid-19 spokesperson, but instead she chose to call in MPs from other regions as well.

The public likely cares little about the machinations of the various parties over whether Parliament should have sat via Zoom or not, but it's clearly got under Collins' skin.

She makes some valid points. The prime minister has been happy to criticise National for creating an unsafe environment by demanding Parliament sit in person, albeit with only a handful of MPs present. But she is happy to front media conferences on the precinct most days.

Secondly, if the government plan was to resort to Zoom for Question Time during alert level 4 or even 3, there's been plenty of time to properly prepare with input from all parties.

In the end it's not about who's there or not. It's to ensure the government is subject to the scrutiny it deserves when imposing such extreme restrictions on New Zealanders as part of the health response, including the comparably slow vaccination roll-out, which Collins has wanted to highlight.

In media and parliamentary appearances yesterday, Collins was brittle and defensive. Of course she's under pressure and no doubt frustrated by feeling, as Bridges did, shut out of the political arena while Ardern dominates the airwaves day after day with a captive audience.

Now, however, is a time when the public is looking for cool, calm leadership and precise interrogation of the government and any failings. That was not on display.

There's also alarm from within the caucus, some of whom are having flashbacks from last year when they copped the political fall-out from a public in no mood for such an approach. Many of those MPs are still dealing with the electoral consequences.

Collins' recent performance also serves to make the contrast with Jacinda Ardern more marked. Plenty may disagree with aspects of the government's approach, Ardern remains on brand, preaching kindness and compassion from the podium. Collins may also be handing support she can ill afford to lose to ACT's David Seymour, who continues to prosecute the issues without losing his cool.

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