You could forgive Judith Collins for feeling like she’s been thrown under the bus this week. You might wonder why the mistakes of such a senior Minister are given such little leeway while the incompetence, cronyism, and all-round dickishness of lesser MPs like John Banks gets a pass. Or consider Hekia Parata- need I say more?
I argue there is a fairly simple reason why the errors of the lowly get a pass, but the errors of Judith Collins get slammed. Setting aside any salaciousness about her leadership ambitions, I believe National is using ‘inverted politics’- by which I mean National makes a strength out of its weakness (education), while Key distances himself from the weaknesses of one of his strengths (Collins). This may sound crazy, but hear me out.
No matter what mistakes National makes (and there have been a metric fuck-tonne of them), they don’t really go down in the polls. This is because John Key is enormously popular. They can have gross incompetence in Cabinet, have the public against them on asset sales, and still poll in the high 40s. This is because John Key is the party’s dominant asset. He is so far above the rest of the party that their stink can’t touch him. Well…. almost.
There are a few capable and highly-ranked Ministers that are close enough to Key to taint him, like Steven Joyce, Bill English and (you guessed it) Judith Collins. These Ministers (and their errors) are close enough to Key to tarnish him, and thus weaken National’s greatest strength. The party has to preserve Key’s popularity and esteem, since he will win them the next election.
On the flip side, Parata and her deluge of clusterfucks (school closures and Novopay) can’t touch Key or National’s popularity. But people care about education, even though it may not shift their vote. National has thrown serious effort into reviving their education portfolio in an effort to paper over the shambles created by Tolley and Parata. They’ve done a fairly good job of this, and even got the unions on side wide some good centrist policy.
What does all this mean? National are making a strength out of a weakness (education) while Key distances himself from the weakness of one of his strengths (Collins). In doing so they reshape the narrative on their failings, and isolate the rot near the throne.
I’ve written a post about how the left can exploit this flipped politics, but I find it so Matt-avellian and repellent that I’m reluctant to post it. I’ll decide whether or not I post it over the next few days. In the mean time, Judith Collins actually has my sympathy. Somewhat. She seems genuinely humbled by how much trouble she is in. She shouldn’t be. She has leadership aspirations, is (too) close to Key, and looks a bit corrupt right now. It’s no surprise that National will seek to protect its greatest asset at any cost.