Karen takes over the National Party

Haydn Marriner is a Rotorua tourism operator and political junkie.

For you boomers out there who don’t know what a Karen is, it's the entitled middle-class woman who walks into your workplace and proceeds to belittle you, your work, demand special treatment and finally walk off threatening you with a bad review and to never return again. 

Hospo and retail staff are well familiar with these entitled women and now National has elected one as their new leader.

Judith “Crusher” Collins has finally achieved her lifelong ambition to lead the National Party and in doing so puts her in the race to be our next Prime Minister. 

With the resignation of Todd Muller, it opened the doors for her and she has stepped in, elevating Gerry Brownlee to her deputy, ensuring that National has a Karen-Boomer combo as the alternative to the Hipster-Maori combo at Labour.

Todd Muller’s sudden resignation due to health reasons is a sad indication of how difficult the job of leader of the opposition can be. It's not called the hardest job in politics because it's not and it can be especially hard when you are being undermined constantly by your own members.

Collins will not have such issues. With a reputation for ruthlessness, it's well documented that she has no scruples when it comes to destroying people for her personal gain, which will be more than enough to keep the dogs in the yard.

The focal point of Nicky Hager's 2014 book Dirty Politics, Collins was found to be leaking information to attack bloggers Cathy Odgers, Carrick Graham and Cameron Slater. 

Sending rumours and speculation to discredit anyone that crossed her, it's considered to be a low point in our nation's politics and media. Collins was also found to be in breach of parliament's conflict of interest rules, using her position as Minister of Justice to secure meetings for her husband's business Oravida, with top-level Chinese officials. 

Asked in her first interview as National Party leader on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report if she had learned any lessons from Dirty Politics, her response was simply - “to not write anything down”, which could be taken a number of ways, but usually when it comes to Collins literal is always the safest bet.

It’s a testament to the fantastic power that John Key and Bill English held over the National Party that they were able to keep her in check. Her naked ambition put her at odds with both former National Party Prime Ministers and when she got her chance, she took her vengeance out on both in her recently released book Pull no Punches, in which she slates Prime Minister Key especially hard.

So what are the pros and cons of her ascension to the top job of New Zealand's largest and wealthiest party? 

On the plus side, the media love her. She's mean, she's dirty and she’s ruthless, which generates headlines and drama all over the show. She stitches back together a very fractured National Party and is a strong public speaker, quick on her feet and asserts herself as well as any politician in parliament. 

She also has the love of the National base, who see her conservative politics as the foundation of the party. Where Prime Ministers Key and English were seen as liberal, Collins is a few steps to the right of them.

She will also bring back all the National voters who were thinking of jumping to ACT or New Zealand First, which is bad for them, but great if you're a National Party backbencher worried about keeping your job.

The cons are a little more complex. She's not popular with the centre. Not just the centre-left, but also the centre-right. Her brand of politics grabs headlines amuses political pundits and media, but it also turns off swing voters. 

In 2014 her own party demoted her out of concern for this very reason.

Contrast her with Jacinda Ardern and it's easy to see the generation gap. Baby Boomers are no longer the largest voter block in New Zealand and National's current leadership doesn’t reflect the aspirations of future generations of Kiwi voters if anything she's likely to turn them away. 

Where Ardern is viewed as the future, Collins is seen as a product of the past, desperate to hold on to power.

Overall Collins will stop the voter bleed National has experienced, which was how she wrangled leadership. Roy Morgan had them at 27 per cent, which is ridiculously low for a party that has averaged 40 per cent over the previous decade or so. 

Can she win? Probably not. She's popular with hardline National voters and the hard right, but her problem has always been the centre voters and that's where elections are won and lost in New Zealand.

I would expect her to get National to 35 per cent at least. More than that can be considered a bonus.

Longer-term however it makes the ascension of presumptive leader Chris Luxton that much more difficult. Collins wants to be Prime Minister, she will have to be rolled to get her out of the role of party leader and that will cause massive ruptures within the party, ruptures which we have just seen can undermine policy and public confidence.

She has demonstrated she has no problem attacking anyone in order to get what she wants, including her own party and its leadership.

As a genuine nobody in national politics and having been on the receiving end of Whale Oil attacks myself, I am personally not looking forward to a return to this style of politics. 

While she is the leader I expect headlines, I expect a resurgence of far-right support for National, I expect lots of dirty politics and I expect it will all cost National the treasury benches. 

My concern is that in her pursuit of victory she irreversibly damages New Zealand politics for a generation of Kiwis. Don’t expect kindness, expect bullies, bruises and blood.


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