The Collins and Oravida scandal has the power to dent National’s support for three reasons- gender, race, and raw simplicity. The story contains elements that alienate the soft middle that swung to National under John Key, particularly the ‘working bloke’ vote. Also, as I’ve argued in a previous post Collins has enough power, profile and proximity to Key to tarnish him and change votes.
Firstly, Judith Collins. She is a strong-willed woman that bucks gender stereotypes. A lot of soft blue votes don’t appreciate that and will be harsher on her than if she was a man. However, the presence of prejudice does not mean the absence of guilt. Rather, many soft blue voters will be less forgiving of her guilt because she’s an unconventional woman. I’ve heard working people say similar things about Hekia Parata. They hate her arrogance, but it’s worse because she’s Māori. This can push some sexist votes back to the blokey blokes on the Left.
Secondly, race. The fact that Judith Collins’ friends are rich and allegedly corrupt Chinese people will antagonise a lot of soft blue votes and working blokes. The fact that Collins has close friendships and business relationships with Stone Shi and Julia Xu does not resonate with many of these voters. Asians are the ‘other’ to many kiwis, especially working bloke voters. Everyone knows that there is racism in New Zealand towards Asians in general and Chinese in particular. The Left is mimicking New Zealand First and dog-whistling to this racism on housing.
Thirdly, simplicity. This is a very easy story to understand. In fact, you don’t even need to understand the story to understand the story. There will be voters across the country that will read this as ‘bossy woman looking after rich Asian mates.’ That is far from the experience and preferences of many of those that have swung to National.
But more than that, this plays into a narrative of cronyism. From Nick Smith and Bronwyn Pullar through Act and cups of tea to Collins and Oravida, a narrative is taking shape. National are smug and only looking out for their mates.
Perhaps the most damaging element for National is the proximity, profile and power of Collins. She is a nationally known figure who sits very near the throne. She is one of a few that can tarnish Key. A 3 News Reid Research poll said 40% of respondents thought John Key should stand Collins down as Minister. The news from the last two days will only increase this number. National’s internal polls may show that the party takes a hit from the ongoing Oravida fiasco. This may force Collins into act of contrition, or even earn her a demotion. Or maybe easter could make everyone forget about the whole thing. Only time will tell.