Why neither Judith Collins nor Steven Joyce will ever be Prime Minister

I’m going to make the call now – neither Judith Collins nor Steven Joyce will ever be NZ’s Prime Minister.

When John Key departs, the accepted wisdom seems to be that there will be a battle royal between Ms Collins and Steven Joyce for the succession. Personally, I remain unconvinced that the victor will be either of them. Certainly right now, they appear to be the two titans flanking Key – Joyce, the pragmatic fixer of unfixable problems; and Collins, the ideological arch-conservative. However, political history has a habit of consigning the so-called anointed ones to back-office oblivion by the time their shot at leadership rolls around. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if both Joyce’s and Collins’ stars have both significantly faded by the time Key calls time on his leadership.

The problem for both is one of persona. For Mr Joyce, despite his huge workload and legendary capabilities, his star is almost non-existent to the public. With no electorate, he’s a Grey Man, a behind-the-scenes puller of levers, who gets wheeled out to explain in short soundbites why something isn’t worth worrying about because it’s going to be fixed. Soothing, but dull…

For Ms Collins, the problem is the opposite. One could almost say that she has too much personality, too much of a public persona. And very little of it is likeable. Sure, she may be the darling of the Conservative wing of the National party, but in broader circles, not so much. There’s grudging respect – hell, the nickname “Crusher Collins” says it all – but there it ends. Most times when she’s being interviewed, she comes across as arrogant, dismissive, occasionally vicious.

The thing about arrogance is that people love to see it all come crashing down. Schadenfreude anyone? And of course, Judith Collins has just invited all of her enemies (both without and within the National party) to tap-dance on what may end up being the gravestone of her leadership ambitions. She’s now apparently on final warning from John Key, after withholding details of a dinner in China with senior members of Oravida. Key is reported to have stated that Collins had “mislead by omission” and that her actions and led “to the perception of a conflict of interest” which was “unacceptable”. That’s a severe dressing down.

But the bit that says everything you need to know about Collins and why she’ll never be Prime Minister?

Collins confirmed she was forced to give an explanation to Key this morning about the lapse but refused to confirm if she had apologised to him.

If she hasn’t by now worked out when to provide a full mea culpa and move on, starving a story of oxygen, then she’ll never learn. Politicians are almost by definition arrogant egotists (why else would they hunger after public office?); the important thing to learn is when to climb down and humble oneself. Collins’ overweening pride will be her undoing, long before she gets the chance to have a crack at the Prime Ministership.


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