The National Party this morning is little more than smouldering embers being raked over by MPs looking for something, or someone, to rebuild on.
Deputy leader Shane Reti is interim leader while MPs have "broken off into groups" to prepare for leadership campaigns. It is a cratered landscape left by ousted leader Judith Collins.
The Papakura MP apparently missed the irony in her final press release as leader where she declared all MPs "deserve to be treated with absolute respect by their colleagues in all situations". It also stated her leadership would "not tolerate harassment and intimidation of any person".
Her demotion of former leader Simon Bridges in the late-night statement was meant as a ruthless and disrespectful intimidation to him and his impending leadership challenge.
It caps an extraordinary period for a party following John Key's 10 golden years, which ended in 2016. After Bridges was rolled in May 2020, Todd Muller took the lead until capitulating, leaving Collins to campaign for three months and three days for a general election.
That Collins lasted 499 days in the leadership is a testament to her tenacity and determination. That she lasted more than 12 months after the worst electoral defeat since the drubbing in 2002 is miraculous, although it appears she was aided in the end by Covid restrictions.
Speculation of a leadership coup was a recurring theme of her tenure from day one. Many political commentators were confident the only impediment in later days was the extended lockdown which kept Auckland-based MPs from mustering in Parliament.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
In the end, as befitting her style, Collins was the one to set off the chain reaction that sealed her fate. She claimed ownership of that yesterday, declaring she knew she "would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously".
But trying to stake the moral high ground for an attempted political execution is an historical rewrite. The complaint against Bridges was dealt with by the National executive at the time. Anyone still aggrieved is an onus on the party. Bridges was called on his behaviour and apologised, and has recently repeated the apology.
Collins knew Bridges was circling for another tilt at the job. His smile was omnipresent in the days leading up to Wednesday's salvo. She cranked the cannon to near vertical and risked also being taken out.
Having been smoked out by Collins' shot, Bridges no longer felt any need for subterfuge by yesterday morning, telling media he would talk to "my caucus" before making his next move.
One of the obvious winners in this meltdown is the Labour Government, which has been roundly criticised in equal measures for being either too slow or too fast in easing restrictions to suppress the Covid pandemic. Another is the Act Party, which has already been nourished by National's rifts - the buffet table has just been replenished.
The big loser is, of course, the country as a whole. National's crash and burn leaves 33 Opposition MPs sifting through ashes when they should be holding our Government's feet to the fire.