Judith Collins may have gone too far in her recent attack on Jacinda Ardern.
It was valid to point out that Ardern and her party are hiding behind Covid and playing voters by running a campaign that looks like it is close to being policy-free. That message would find sympathy with some voters. But to then accuse Ardern of "arrogance" in the next breath is too much.
It's a move so aggressive that it's actually counter-productive. It shifts the conversation immediately. Instead of voters focussing on the point Collins was trying to make (no policy) they're likely to have immediately focused on the hostile rhetoric.
If Collins continues this with this type of full-noise attack, she runs the risk of starting to look like a bully.
You can, though, appreciate the National Party's conundrum. They have to do something to dent Ardern's popularity. It seems unlikely that an incumbent PM sitting on 54 per cent in the preferred PM polls is going to be turfed out.
But, there are a range of strategies the National Party could use, instead of pulling out the bazooka and aiming it squarely at the PM's personality.
One way is to lasso the PM back into the failures of Kiwibuild, light rail and the Year of Delivery that never delivered. (That, by the way is a very abbreviated list: the full list of disappointments is too long to publish.) The Nats seem to have tried out the lasso strategy, using Question Time in the House to force Ardern to answer questions on her party's failure to deliver. But, with Covid dominating everything, it would take time to build this sentiment back up and time is not on National's side.
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Another way is to needle Ardern with more subtlety. A raised eyebrow here, a gentle rebuke there. Sir John Key gave a lesson in it this week when he said the economy is "not her thing". It's not aggressive. It's almost sympathetic, as if he's apologising on Ardern's behalf. It's not rude so Sir John himself doesn't become the problem. It hits the mark perfectly.
That's really the kind of approach Collins should consider taking. As the older of the two women she can afford to adopt a slightly patronising tone as long as it doesn't slip into nastiness. She got close to that on her very first day in leadership when she warned that she wouldn't "let Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern get away with any nonsense".
I'd be interested to know whether the full-on attack was a slip-up or a strategy. If it's the latter, I'd be also be interested in knowing whose advice Collins is taking on this. Attacking Ardern has almost certainly been a subject of discussion within the National Party strategy team and the point has almost certainly been made that the public will not react well to attacking Ardern, given her level of popularity. The very core of National's support will likely love it, but they're already committed voters so don't need to be impressed and drawn in.
National has made the right move to stop referring to Ardern as the Prime Minister and instead as the Labour Party leader. The PM saved New Zealand from Covid, the Labour leader failed to deliver much for New Zealand for a solid two-and-a-half years before Covid. It's a subtle distinction but it's important. It'll prick the thoughts of voters. Just the words "Labour leader" are possibly a little toxic given the brand damage this government and its Phil Twyfords, David Clarks and Clare Currans have likely done to the Labour brand.
But the distinction is too subtle to give Collins a free pass to attack the Labour leader quite as aggressively as she did.