Heather Du Plessis-Allan: Nationals toxic brand needs diversity, new talent


There’s no argument the National Party knifings reveal the shambles in the party.There’s no argument they will further repel voters.But the knifings are exactly what the Nats need, and in the long run the party will thank Judith Collins for welding the bloody knife.

Todd Muller had to go.He was foolish if he thought he had a political future after leading that disastrous coup six months before last year’s election.National voters blame him for making a bad election worse.

In Opposition, he was a walking reminder of the destructive ambition running through the Nats’ caucus.In Government – whenever that might be – he could hardly expect to be rewarded with a big ministry.Public failure is unforgiving.

Nick Smith had to go, too.He was a great MP in his day, but he’d had his day.There’s room in any party for an old tusker to guide newbie colleagues, but National had too many between Smith, Gerry Brownlee and Collins.Smith was hogging a seat in a party that needs diversity and fresh talent badly.

Collins is so brutal you almost want to feel sorry for Smith and Muller.She obviously doesn’t bother knifing her colleagues in the back.It’s a full frontal assault.

But what’s she got to lose?Virtually everyone agrees Collins is not the next National Party Prime Minister.Her own brand is too damaged by last year’s election.

If you believe politicians are capable of self-sacrifice, you might just be tempted to believe Collins is doing the dirty work herself so the next leader doesn’t have to get their hands dirty.Because dirty hands waste too much political capital, which is a valuable resource when you’re up against Jacinda Ardern loaded to the gunnels with Covid capital.

What’s obvious, though, is that unless the leaking stops, Collins may have to use that knife a few more times.It is only because of ongoing leaks that we know the gory and tantalising details of both knifings. That Muller was accused of badmouthing incoming MP Harete Hipango.That he was given the ultimatum in a late-night caucus meeting on Tuesday of resigning or facing suspension from caucus.That his own “numbers man” Chris Bishop turned on him.That it was “brutal” to witness.

It’s also only because of a leak that we suspect Collins engineered Smith’s resignation.That she told him a story was breaking on Tuesday a month ago, which led to him resigning on the Monday, a day before the story never broke.

Collins’ targets should beware Tuesdays.Tuesday is clearly the preferred day of execution.

And it’s clearly killing season.The first year after an election is the furtherest from the next election, so it’s the best time to get the unpopular stuff out of the way.

In the short term, there is no doubt this is dragging National’s already-toxic brand through the sewer.It lays bare the betrayals within caucus, the loathing MPs have for each other and the ongoing bickering.The current state of the party is probably part of the reason Muller is sticking around to 2023 rather than quitting immediately and forcing a by-election.Bay of Plenty may have been a blue stronghold for 70 years and survived the Covid red wave of 2020, but voters might be in a mood right now to give the blue team a spanking and a by-election would provide that opportunity.

Whether Collins is being self-sacrificing in her knifings or not, the next leader should be grateful to her for having the foresight and backbone to do the dirty work they won’t have to.

While the execution is rough, the end result is necessary.

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