Judith Collins’ behaviour might strike some as strangely aggressive. Some might even suppose she wouldn’t behave like this unless she was in the right. But let’s put ourselves in her shoes. She wants to be leader. She is now embroiled in a scandal that could end her career. If she could put an end to it without resigning, she would nip it in the bud. Clearly, she can’t – which just goes to confirm what everyone already supposes and what our inside sources confirm: Collins is behind the leaking of the Boag email.
So, what to
Option 1) resign. This would be a total defeat, ending her chances of being leader and the power she has now.
Option 2) fight with everything including the kitchen sink. Here there is at least a sliver of a chance of survival. It will damage the party more if she goes down or not than a clean resignation but her career is going to come first. Considering option 1, this is the optimal strategy.
Nick Smith faced these two options just a week ago but he wasn’t planning on making a run for leader in the next 3 years and his loyalty to the National Party overrode his interest in keeping his power.
On top of the strategy, Collins’ personality is always going to compel her to lash out.
So, this is why we see Collins’ invoking the ‘not in the public interest’ line when questioned in the House and getting the taxpayer to pick up her tab for ludicrous defamation suits on Trevor Mallard, Andrew Little, and Radio New Zealand. These actions will expose her and her party to more derision, contempt, and anger but, but, they have a tiny chance of scaring off her opponents and saving her career. The media has been slightly chilled by the defamation suits. In Collins’ calculus, it’s better to (probably) go down kicking and screaming and hurt whomever doesn’t get out of the way on her way down than to quietly fold and protect her party.
Which brings us back to the person responsible for ensuring that the actions of ministers don’t work against the interests of the government and the National Party (and, oh yeah, the public they’re meant to be serving). John Key at the moment is giving Collins’ enough rope to hang herself. That’s been his strategy in other ministerial scandals too. But this is a new challenge to which his corporatist style of leadership is unsuited.
At its root, this is a fight for the succession to leadership post-Key that has spilled into the public arena – Collins’ actions have shifted the Boag and brat pack factions against her, giving the Joyce faction the opportunity to strike and attempt to knock her out of contention. If it was just one minister who had stuffed up, letting them play it out for themselves before stepping in to give them the chop if need be would work – as it did with Worth, Wong, Heatley, and Smith. But Key’s got a civil war on his hands that is over what happens once he is no longer leader. His failure to quash this just confirms that he is now a lame-duck.