Fran O’Sullivan on the leadership struggle


Fran O’Sullivan writes a column about the leadership struggle in the National party.

Jacinda Ardern can thank Judith Collins’ incisive political attack for reminding her of her biggest job: get on her game as Prime Minister.

The media-endorsed “mother of the nation” celebrification — which has been wall-to-wall since Ardern announced her pregnancy — could (if she is not mindful) undermine her impact as NZ’s political leader.

Opposition politicians have since tip-toed around Ardern. They have not wanted to be seen to land blows on a young pregnant woman who happens to be enormously relatable and popular.

Most have played into the “generational change” meme without pointing out that the only reason we have a 37-year-old female Prime Minister is because a septuagenarian put her there.  

Generational change was actually geriatric change.

But when Collins — some 20 years Ardern’s senior — launched her campaign for National’s leadership, she took a different approach by taking the fight directly to the Prime Minister.

It was refreshing.

Yes it was. While Simon Bridges was telling the National base that he knew his whakapapa and referred to himself in the third person, Judith Collins was smashing up Jacinda Ardern. While Amy Adams was telling us all about her “progressive” credentials, Judith Collins was putting the slipper into Jacinda Ardern

After weeks of media coverage suggesting Ardern’s pregnancy meant she was now a shoo-in to lead the Labour-NZ First coalition to win another term at the 2020 election, an Opposition politician had finally broken cover from their self-imposed PC straitjacket.

Others might have a problem taking on Ardern out of concern that they would look heavy-handed or be seen to pick on the young, pregnant woman.

But Collins said: “I have been pregnant running a law firm and studying as well. As a young mum I understand exactly how tough it is to do that. But she understands that too.

“That is not the role she’s asked New Zealanders to support her for.

“She has asked them to make her and keep her as Prime Minister of New Zealand.

“And that is the role I would hold her to account for.”

Collins’ forthright attack has clearly resonated within the ninth floor of the Beehive.

It has resonated more amongst National’s base.

John Key’s prime ministership ultimately became tarred by one too many celebrity pratfalls, which ended with him being mercilessly and repeatedly lampooned on The Late Show. But he had already cemented himself as a serious player during his leadership through the GFC.

Ardern — still establishing her prime ministerial platform — must get runs on the board while maintaining her relentlessly positive approach.

It is a balance.

Ardern’s positioning as Prime Minister is at times also undermined by a media fascination which borders on being fatuous.

This was embarrassingly obvious last weekend, when Julie Bishop was questioned about the shoes that Ardern wore when she popped in on a dinner that Winston Peters hosted at his home for the visiting Australian Foreign Minister.

“Seriously?” asked Bishop.

If Ardern is to deliver on the international cachet she has already achieved as a young, progressive political leader, she should ensure her international positioning — including with Australia — stays within a prime ministerial brand.

The truth is that Collins captured a growing sentiment — that it is time for the Prime Minister to ease back on celebrification and get down to business.

This she did ably yesterday.

Collins does not quite have @DonaldTrump’s cut-through in the twitterverse.

But her Thursday tweet — “No more PC virtue signalling needed. #Stronganddecisive” — had the necessary impact.

Amy Adams or Simon Bridges — Collins’ two main contenders for the National leadership — have yet to achieve the same.

And they won’t.


-NZ Herald

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.