9 Dec 2020

Election in review: Judith Collins considered rejecting National leadership

4:23 pm on 9 December 2020

Judith Collins has revealed she considered rejecting the National Party leadership when she was asked by her colleagues to take on the job.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In a raw and brutal evaluation of the 2020 campaign, Collins recalled becoming National's leader a few months before the election.

The night before Todd Muller publicly announced he was stepping down as leader, some of her colleagues asked her to take on the job, Collins says.

She admits she had serious reservations.

"I wouldn't quite describe it as a poison chalice but it was definitely not a golden ticket," she says.

Her husband agreed she should not take the job, but Collins said she wanted to sleep on the decision.

"By the morning I had decided if ever there was a time I needed to step up it was now ... I am an optimist and I genuinely believed that the election was still winnable by us if things went our way and if we could give New Zealanders a reason to change the government and unfortunately we didn't do that," Collins says.

What followed was a tumultuous campaign marked with "self-inflicted distractions and wounds".

Collins says she inherited an inexperienced campaign team forced together at short notice.

"Covid-19 lockdowns and two leadership changes meant we were not as well organised or prepared for an election as we had been in the past.

"There were also issues with our policy platform, campaign management, themes, messaging, discipline and of course distractions and scandals of our own making," Collins says.

The National leader says this combination meant the party did not appear as a credible government in waiting.

David Seymour's reflection on the ACT campaign is a stark contrast to that of National's.

"I think it's fair to say that it is story of coming from the absolute depths of despair to moderate triumph ... you have to start somewhere," Seymour says.

At the start of the last Parliamentary term, Seymour says he was in one of the "deepest and darkest places a person can go".

"There's always a bright future and it may be that in only three years' time you find yourself champagne in hand, riding a speed boat into the Viaduct Harbour," he added.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw reflected on one election surprise - Chlöe Swarbrick became the first Green MP in 20 years to win an electorate seat.

"So Jacinda rang me up on the Sunday after the election, it was our first phone call, and she said 'so, Auckland Central ... didn't see that coming' and I said 'the only person who saw that coming was Chlöe Swarbick'," Shaw says.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's remarks largely focused on the tragedies that marked her first term as prime minister and Covid-19.

She also reflected on her campaign strategy which was for herself and Labour MPs to travel across the country and spend time in both red and blue electorates.

Everyone except Chris Hipkins.

"For much of the general election campaign I felt a bit like the designated survivor," he says.

"I was stuck here in the Beehive poring over the daily testing numbers and the case investigations while all of my friends were out having fun around the rest of the country."

Hipkins says 2020 will go down as one of the most challenging in New Zealand's history.

Politicians are off home now for a summer break and possibly more time for reflection. They will be back at the start of next year - and if 2020 was challenging, who knows what 2021 will bring.

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