National Party crisis: How the leadership coup played out

Lloyd Burr 25/11/2021

OPINION: Wednesday seemed like any other day in politics.

The Government was scrambling to announce some more Covid policies. 

Leader Judith Collins, languishing in the polls, was trying to blast Ardern’s MIQ plan: 

Ardern is the grinch who stole Christmas for Kiwis overseas.

Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be brewing. 

Then, at 9:21pm that night, a press release dropped and the political world exploded. It said: 

“This evening, with unanimous support of the board of the National Party, Simon Bridges, Member for Tauranga, has been demoted and relieved of his portfolio responsibilities.

"The decision follows an allegation of serious misconduct relating to Simon Bridges’ interaction with a caucus colleague.

The case relates to comments made by Mr Bridges to a female caucus colleague at a function a number of years ago.” 

It was a declaration of war from Collins. 

Yes, the allegations were serious. But the timing of them couldn’t have been a coincidence. 

She knew a coup was brewing. She knew Bridges was doing the numbers, and about to pounce. So she did what she knows best: crushing. She hit send on the dirt she had, kiboshing his imminent coup, and forcing him to front. 

What we saw yesterday was truly desperate stuff from Judith Collins. I think it shows she’ll go to any length to hold onto the leadership of the National Party. 

So what was the dirt that Collins had on Bridges? It’s claimed 5 years ago, Bridges was talking to some male colleagues about techniques during sexual intercourse that help concieve a girl rather than boys, as he had two sons at the time. It was overheard by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean who took offence, and the then-deputy leader Bill English asked Bridges to apologise, which he did. 

But Collins has only recently found out about the comments and took them public. 

So, an emergency caucus meeting was hastily scrambled and on the way into Parliament, MPs were furious at their leader, like Simon O'Connor:

"The way that the leadership has chosen to deal with this is beyond appalling and to make it abundantly clear, I cannot work with Judith Collins as leader and I’m handing over all my portfolios."

Meantime, Barbara Kuiriger said:

"Am I proud of what’s going on in here? No."  

They filed into the caucus room and began. Oh to be a fly on the wall. 

Journalists outside waited. They waited for a sniff of a political knifing. They waited for the blood to start oozing out from underneath the caucus door. 

And then came the speculation, live-tweeted succinctly by political editor Tova O’Brien:

  • “Collins Gone” 
  • “Luxon” 
  • “Could yet be Mark Mitchell” 
  • “Shane Reti temporary leader” 

And then,

  • “Decision on Leader next week” 

TVNZ’s Jessica Mutch-McKay was live at the time:

"The sources have told me it is Shane Reti who will be stepping in in the interim and a new leader announced next week."

So instead of a swift blood-spilling and anointing of new leaders, National has chosen to drag this out for a week. 

Afterward, Shane Reti addressed the media, who by then were salivating: 

My role is to shepherd and guide the caucus.

"There’s always a sadness when there’s something like this, but we get up and lift our eyes to the horizon and get on with the job."

Bridges was understandably still furious at the whole thing, and was forced to apologise again for what happened in 2016: 

I regret what I said. I wasn’t aware of its impact on Jacqui at the time. I’ve certainly been made aware of the effect it’s had.

It’s a valuable lesson.

Meanwhile, Jacqui Dean didn’t front, instead, released a statement saying; "At the time 5 years ago, there was an apology, but subsequently it has continued to play on my mind and with the recent reviews that have occurred in Parliament the feelings have been brought back up."

Who brought them back up is now the question - is she genuinely still haunted by Bridges joking about an old wive’s tale relating to how to conceive a girl, or was she forced to bring them back up in a bid to save Collins’ leadership? 

Whatever the answer, the party’s in chaos. It’s broken. It’s fractured. It’s in disarray. All at a time when the country needs a competent Opposition to keep tabs on the government. 

But National MPs are instead keeping tabs on each other. 

And now the games begin. The games of number-crunching, back-room talks and alliances. 

Crusher Collins has today crushed her own leadership, and her entire party.

By Lloyd Burr, host of Magic Talk's Lloyd Burr Live, weekdays from 4pm

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