Judith Collins out: Bowled after 499 days at the helm of the National Party

Judith Collins has lost the leadership of the National Party.

In a dramatic three-hour meeting of the caucus in Wellington today National politicians have changed leadership after 16 months at the helm.

National MP Stuart Smith told NZNE Shane Reti was the interim leader, and there is currently no deputy.

Since last July Collins was regarded as the night watchman, brought in to see National through to the election after the party lost leaders in quick succession.

But today, after 499 days, Judith Collins has been dismissed, ending her innings with fewer if any more runs on the board, and her team in tatters.

She became the second female leader of the National Party after incumbent Todd Muller resigned just over a month in the top job in July last year and weeks out from the 2020 general election.

But as leader ‘Crusher’ Collins, the moniker the former Police Minister wore with pride after introducing legislation to destroy cars of boy racers, has had few, if any remarkable accomplishments in recent Covid-hit times.

While she performed strongly in the televised leaders’ debates either winning or drawing with prime minister Jacinda Ardern, it wasn’t enough to sway voters.

With National’s fortunes continuing to flag after being decimated in last year’s general election, the focus has been on Collins defending her leadership and missteps which include travelling to Wellington from Auckland while the Covid-hit region remained in lockdown.

Under her watch, she has seen veteran National Party politician Nick Smith suddenly leave Parliament, and loyalist Harete Hipango return to the fold, who was immediately embroiled in a spending controversy.

Collins ended up defending her when the MP bought a TV and sofa which the Parliamentary Service told her to return.

She dismissed the incident as a ‘coding error’ and a ‘beat-up’.

In the same month Collins was dealing with the fallout with disgraced former candidate Jake Bezzant who was accused by his former partner of using nude photos of her to repeatedly impersonate and engage in cyber-sex.

More recently Collins faced criticism for flying to Wellington during Auckland’s lockdown after National and Act refused to support a virtual Government during the current Delta outbreak.

She claimed her work was essential and she was entitled to travel to carry out her role.

She also added she had been at home in isolation for two weeks, was fully vaccinated, was a meticulous contact tracing app user and that she had not been to any Covid exposure sites.

From the outset political commentators considered her rise to leadership something of a hospital pass, with the opposition party having three leaders in quick succession just weeks out from a general election.

She led National to a 25.6 per cent defeat on election night, worse than the polls before she took over as leader and the second-worst defeat in the party’s history, losing 23 seats.

Under her leadership the party has not made headway into Labour’s formidable majority.

Back in September 1News Colmar Brunton poll showed both National and Labour had taken a blow since the last poll in May – and as preferred prime minister, Judith Collins had dropped to a mere five cent.

New Zealand Herald political editor Claire Trevett wrote at the time National Party leader Judith Collins had plummeted so far in the polling she would need a scuba tank.

As speculation mounted of a leadership bid by former leader Simon Bridges, the National Party leader vowed to fight on as the party’s leader, saying she would never resign from the job.

Asked if she would ever resign as leader, Collins said she would not – not even if her party dipped below 20 per cent in the polls, a record low result for one of the two major parties.

Appearing on Newshub Nation, Collins hit back at the speculation other MPs were vying for the leadership, saying she had “never seen a caucus so happy”.

“I want to make this really clear … I am staying, I am not going,” she said.

“I have a job to do and I am doing that job.”

A Newshub-Reid Research poll asked whether Kiwi voters preferred Bridges or Collins to lead the National Party.

Bridges was backed by 40.7 per cent of voters, with Collins having the support of just 23.3 per cent.

As she continued to bat off low poll results former prime minister Sir John Key stepped up to the crease announcing his ideas to get New Zealand out of the Delta doldrums.

This week National MPs were expected to have an awkward caucus meeting after a new poll revealed Collins had lost the support of both National voters and the country at large.

While backing the government’s vaccine mandates, she has championed the rural-based groundswell movement, that has been involved in two national protests during lockdown clogging city roads with tractors and heavy farming machinery.

She has also strongly criticised theThree Waters reform vowing to return any seized water assets back to councils.

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