On Judith Collins’ Contrapasso Cataclysm

Last night, it sounded pretty bad for Simon Bridges. Collins et co said he had to go due to some “serious misconduct” tier “inappropriate” remarks that’d triggered fellow Nat MP Jacqui Dean to make a complaint. We were then informed that the remarks were of a “sexual” nature.

Indeed, such was the seriousness of these sexual comments which had upset Dean that even though the matter had been put to bed some five years ago with an apology and Bill English’s oversight of the resolution, that Collins felt she had “no choice” but to raise it all over again and ouster Bridges from his portfolios.

Now, as of this afternoon … the actual content of Bridges’ comments have been revealed.

What was it? Something Dean overheard (i.e. not actually said to or about Dean), in which Bridges was discussing with an associate of his the fact that he and his wife were trying for a baby, and that there was a particular mode of action which might increase the chances that they’d conceive a girl (perhaps understandable considering they’d already had two boys in succession).

That’s it. That’s the “scandal”.

If you’re wondering why this was worth bringing up half a decade later and with sufficient seriousness to torpedo one of your own party’s *better* performers at a time when it’s by rights ‘all hands to the pump’ … you’re not alone.

It would seem that an appreciable swathe of New Zealand politics – let alone Collins & Bridges (& Dean’s) National Party Caucus colleagues – have been wondering pretty much the exact same thing.

This has then been compounded by revelations that Judith Collins’ press statement very late last night claiming a unanimous mandate of support from National’s Board to ouster Bridges … was apparently false in that rather key detail.

Now, of course, the whole thing looks less … bizarrely inexplicable when considered as a sort of desperate delaying action against Simon Bridges attempting to snatch back the Leadership from Collins, as many have observed.

Yet simply because it is now ‘explicable’ does not somehow suddenly make it sensible in any way, shape, or form.

Instead, the whole thing is something of a hypostasis of Collins’ political persona writ large.

A nasty, venal plan fueled by desperation and umbrage (and with Cameron Slater tweeting at the same time events were unfolding behind closed doors) which sought to cut off somebody else’s nose with a devil-may-care attitude to the spiting of one’s own party’s face.

She must have known that as soon as the substance of the allegations and the fact of their previous handling actually came out, she’d look ridiculously petty – perhaps even more so than usual.

She must have known that her claim of ‘unanimous’ Board support for her action would swiftly be exposed – and lead to quite some ire against her from within her own party and Caucus collegium amidst a flood of ‘leaks’ to the press about the actual truth of the matter.

She absolutely must have known a great many things. And yet – instead of clinging on for another few weeks while Simon Bridges prevaricated in public about how much he might support the current leader of the National Party and then probably decided to wait til either after Summer or after 2023 … she somehow managed the damn near unprecedented feat of effectively throwing herself out of the party leadership with her own ‘clever’ (self-)preservation-of-leadership gambit.

All I can presume is that she genuinely felt cornered – and that sufficient quotient of her Caucus colleagues had indeed turned against her (or, rather, been prepared to put pre-turning into tangible action via voting for somebody else to lead them) to facilitate Bridges less-than-total loyalty in the press … thus triggering this desperate initiative in its earnest.

That’s why she felt she needed to fake a party board mandate of unanimous support for her anti-Bridges maneuver – because she knew very well (or at least heartily suspected) that she wouldn’t be able to rely upon Caucus to support it, and so sought to borrow the auctoritas of another deliberative wing of the party.

That’s also why she wasn’t, it would seem, too worried about the truth of that occurrence coming out within hours of her action – because by the time it got into the media or most of her colleagues’ heads that she’d fabricated the “unanimous” Board mandate, Bridges would already be heavily damaged goods.

Insinuations of the nature of the “serious misconduct” being “sexual” and involving a female MP as victim would set rumours swirling and dissipate the perception of Bridges as a ‘safer’ prospect than the incumbent. And any putative leadership challenge would thus be prematurely stymied before it could get to a Caucus meeting and pre-empt her.

By the time most people caught up to the actual truth of the situation, whether in terms of what was actually said and/or who was or wasn’t supporting (unanimously or otherwise) Collins or Anti-Collins – she’d have kicked the leadership transition football into touch for another few weeks as the story would die down while other events (like Christmas with Covid and Aucklanders here) first eclipsed and then subsumed it.

A bold plan, and likely a totally unnecessary one. There isn’t much evidence that Bridges was imminently poised to strike in a way that could actually ouster Collins – he was still rather short on support, if he had been contemplating such a thing; his gesticulating in this regard a pantomime act with future ambits in mind.

Instead, like the self-fulfilling prophecies of Greek myth, Collins effectively engineered her own ouster precisely through her own ever more frantic endeavours to protect herself from ouster.

Gosh – brought low by a cunning and duplicitious plot that was supposed to eliminate via sneering besmirchment one’s prospective rival.

Some might suggest that ‘contrapasso’.

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