OPINION:

Judith Collins will be rolled. There is no question over that. The only questions are when, and by whom.

“When” is arguably the harder of the two questions to answer.

It must be tempting to roll Collins as soon as possible. She is a deer fixed in the crosshairs after this week’s Curia poll put National at a shocking 21 per cent. To be fair, the poll isn’t setting off a chain of events. It only reconfirms the necessity of what was already inevitable.

Collins cannot realistically hope to be elected Prime Minister after her performance of late. From shouting at the young interviewer on Breakfast to calling Siouxsie Wiles a “big, fat hypocrite”, her actions do not reflect the statesmanship we expect in our PMs.

Her chances also haven’t been helped this week by her former press secretary Janet Wilson describing her as suffering “paranoid storms” ahead of the previous election.

That the party slumped to 21 per cent this week is not surprising.It’s shocking, but not surprising.It’s just a numerical reflection of the shambles we have all watched unfolding over months.

And it’s not just National’s polling that must be tempting Collins’ usurper(s). It’s also Labour’s polling. It’s true that Labour is still sitting pretty on 45 per cent in this week’s leaked UMR poll. The wee 2 per cent bump upwards halted Labour’s recent slide in the polls. But it’ll be disappointing to Labour and tantalising to National, because it’s not as good as you’d expect off the back of a lockdown. Last year’s first level 4 lockdown boosted Labour to 55 per cent, up 13 points. That a similar bump hasn’t been repeated suggests Labour is not finding the same support for its Covid response.

That’ll tempt any Collins contender. It’ll give them hope that – if the trend continues – National might yet have a chance in 2023. An upset next election would defy recent historical trends, but it is also true that Covid is Labour’s only real trump card. They’ve failed to deliver on almost everything else. If even the trump card is wearing out, Labour will become increasingly vulnerable.

But, patience is needed. Voters are incredibly tired of National’s internal squabbles. Rolling Collins while the country is in crisis will infuriate many. And make no mistake, Auckland in lockdown level 4 or level 3 is a crisis. Arguably, even level 2 is a crisis given the impact the ongoing restrictions have on business.

It’s also risky for the winning contender to launch their leadership while the airwaves are chocka with Covid. Labour and Jacinda Ardern are crowding out most other news. Act is already match-fit running opposition to Labour. National’s next leader will have to be ready to go immediately if they want to feature. And they must feature. Losing that space to David Seymour might only turn them into a lame duck immediately.

The “who” is much easier. The only real contenders being talked about are Simon Bridges and Christopher Luxon.

Bridges seems to have the edge on Luxon. He seems more interested right now than Luxon. But don’t count Luxon out until he says he’s out.

Bridges’ advantage is that he’s a safer pair of hands. He knows how to do politics. He proved that during his last leadership stint, often keeping National’s polling ahead of Labour’s, even in opposition.

Luxon by contrast is green. He hasn’t shone in any of his shadow portfolios, even though he’s been blessed with gimmes in Associate Transport and Local Government. The hated Boomer Bike Bridge to Birkenhead was a gift but Luxon scored no hits on Labour with it. Inexperience could lead to mistakes. National’s caucus got burned the last time an inexperienced guy started making mistakes. That guy was Todd Muller.

But, Bridges’ disadvantage is that he’s used goods. He’s not as fresh and unblemished as Luxon. And voters still seem to dislike him. According to Politik his unfavourability rating is still at a massive 50 per cent. It’ll take a thousand videos of him walking with yaks to turn that around.

In truth, National is in an unenviable position. No prospective leader and no time really seems perfect. National is in crisis in the middle of a national crisis. No path forward seems obvious. The only certainty you can count on right now is Collins is gone.

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