Collins struggles to wake National from its rogue state

Rogue poll or not, Judith Collins’ first fortnight as National leader has not been without its stumbles - and there is precious little time for her to turn that around, Sam Sachdeva writes

Judith Collins’ arched eyebrows are a handy feature for political cartoonists to exaggerate - and they were almost certainly close to the ceiling when the results of the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll were presented to her.

At 25.1 percent, National’s caucus would be almost halved, while Labour on more than 60 percent would command an overwhelming majority in Parliament.

Little wonder then that Collins and co took issue with the findings.

Of course, National isn’t the first party to question the accuracy of a poll it dislikes. But most - New Zealand First aside - resist the urge to issue a formal press release rubbishing the result, as campaign chair and deputy leader Gerry Brownlee did.

It carried a whiff of desperation, an attempt to stop a stampede away from the party if it was perceived as a lost cause.

But what about the substantive issue - was the poll in fact “a rogue”, as Brownlee labelled it?

The paucity of public polling in New Zealand makes that difficult to answer definitively: Newshub’s latest survey came more than two months after its last one, while there have been only seven public polls during the four months since the country entered lockdown.

Brownlee did not offer up much to substantiate his allegations, with his reference to the glowing findings of a Stuff-Massey University election survey undermined somewhat by the fact that, as Stuff itself acknowledges, the self-selecting sample means it is not scientifically accurate.

We should have a better idea of Newshub’s accuracy by the end of the week, with One News expected to release its latest Colmar Brunton poll.

National's perceived strength on economic management appears to be eroding. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

But even if it does prove to be an outlier, the ‘real’ figure is unlikely to be enough to give National much comfort - and there are reasons for broader concern beyond the headline numbers.

Take Newshub’s finding, backed by an Ipsos poll in May, that Labour is now more trusted than National on the issue of economic management.

That reputation as a responsible fiscal steward has always been the party’s trump card, as evidenced by the many times it has previously accused Labour of a fiscal hole in its numbers on the campaign trail.

With the economic recovery front of mind for many Kiwi voters, it would normally seem fertile territory for National to make up some ground - but that line of attack may not get the traction the party would usually expect.

Then there is Collins herself. While it is her colleagues who have let the party down most in recent weeks, the leader herself has made the occasional fumble.

Taking a dig at the Government over its handling of managed isolation facilities on Monday, Collins remarked to a Palmerston North crowd: “When I was Minister of Corrections, nobody escaped.”

As a number of people were quick to point out on social media, that was not quite true - in fact there were more than 20 escapes during her two stints in the role.

Collins’ response? “When my eyebrow goes up, it’s a joke.”

Fairly or otherwise, it brought to mind the hackneyed quip: “How do you know a politician is lying? When their lips are moving.”

The party is yet to release any fiscal plan outlining its spending proposals, while the constant roading announcements are beginning to border on self-parody.

The escapee quip was fairly benign - less so her claim this week that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had known about former minister Iain Lees-Galloway’s office affair, despite the Prime Minister’s categorical denial.

Ditto her suggestion on Tuesday that there were questions to be answered about whether Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani had jumped the queue to secure refugee status in New Zealand last week (several refugee advocates have said there is no ‘queue’ of refugees to jump in the first place).

In the latter case, Collins said she was not asserting any wrongdoing, merely asking for more information - but as an experienced politician like her well knows, framing a question in a certain way can be as good as making an allegation.

More importantly, there is little sense of what a National-led government under Collins would actually look like in terms of policy.

The party is yet to release any fiscal plan outlining its spending proposals, while the constant roading announcements are beginning to border on self-parody.

With less than six weeks until the start of advance voting, there is precious little time for Collins and her MPs to convince voters that National isn’t on a road to nowhere.

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