Tuesday, 9 September 2014

RIP The Career of Judith Collins

Before every election, I like to re-read Nick Hager's The Hollow Men, just to remind myself of the sort of behaviours the neo-right is capable of.  This year's reading has been delayed a bit because I've been busy reading another Hager tome, Dirty Politics.  Reading them simultaneously creates a rather jarring effect, as characters that loom large in one have (Matthew Hooton) virtually disappeared in the other; or minor players in one (Judith Collins and Jason Ede) emerge on a gargantuan scale in the sequel; or have changed from noble to ignoble, in the manner of Kathrine Rich.

It is worth noting that it was Brash's sacking of Rich in January 2005, that ushered in the Crusher.  Rich had failed to voice adequate support to the Dear Leader's psychotic views on beneficiaries, and so she lost her portfolios and front bench positions.  As Hagar notes, ""He gave the job to an MP called Judith Collins, whose views on welfare would have fitted comfortably into the ACT party."

Perhaps there was something of a portend there, if we had but known!  Collins would continue to prosper under Key, and this should have served as a warning to all that Key's sweet nothings about being a different sort of politician and rejecting the negativity and nastiness of Brash's tenure were worthless words of the hollowest of men.

But we didn't know, and we let the cheesy grin and gurning and the vague sense of likeable charm and h-doesn't-wear-shoes-as-he-pads-about-his-million-dollar-pad padding that passes as journalism bamboozle us.  And, it seems, will still let it work its sickly spell in a couple of week's time, since it seems no amount of dirt can quite besmirch Key's smug smile.

But, back to Judith Collins.  She plays only a very small part in The Hollow Men, rating just two entries in the index.  The first is the announcement of her promotion, above.  The second is a couple of pages later, when Bill English is so moved by her incompetence to send an email to Brash to express concern:
The email began by discussing two presentations that MP Judith Collins had made to the caucus, one on health policy and one on family.  'I thought the health presentation on caucus was awful,' he wrote, 'and I am told Judith's family presentation was worse.   I am not one the caucus complains to, except for today, so it must have been pretty bad.'
'There are a few lessons here,' he said.  Brash's strategy team had been 'pushing Judith [Collins] as a star' but she was a second year MP 'pushed beyond her capacity' into a hard portfolio and 'with an unfortunately high estimation of her own competence.'  Collins, 'with apparent backing from the top,' had 'spent too much time cultivating the media herself and believing the resulting publicity.  She will find it hard to recover her credibility in caucus where she has been a tough critic of her colleagues behind the scenes and they know it.'
It is spookily prescient.  A political bully who was backed from the top who mistook her bluster for brilliance and who pushed her further than her limited talent justified.  An rogue MP who clumsily attempted to manipulate the media to suit her own agenda.  An arrogant ideologue who seemed convinced of her own unerring power and righteousness - who cares about the means because the ends must be good, because they are my ends?

Such was The Crusher, a strange phenomenon that blighted New Zealand politics for a few years, her rise and fall neatly marked by the publication of Hager's two books.

If political careers had headstones, 'Pushed beyond her capacity' would probably do nicely for hers.

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