COMMENT:

At one point in the media appearances National MP Judith Collins made after overtaking leader Simon Bridges in a Newshub Reid Research poll, Collins was asked whether she was National's Jacinda Ardern.

As Collins has done, in 2017 Ardern had overtaken her leader Andrew Little in public opinion polls.

The answer to whether Collins is the Ardern is an easy and very quick "no".

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If Collins' situation is be compared to any Labour leader, it would be David Cunliffe.

This is not because of personality similarities, although as Cunliffe did, Collins has done little to quell talk she may be poised to take over from National's leader Simon Bridges.

In fact, this week she has skated very close to disloyalty. While she has not openly criticised Bridges, she has not openly backed him or pledged fealty.

The day after that poll, she would not say whether she had discussed leadership with anybody. She spoke about the hard work and talent of "the team" but did not single out Bridges. The best she had for him was that he was "doing his best" and that she and he "work well together".

Asked if she would like to be leader, it took her quite some time and a lot of direct questioning to get to the point of adding "I'm not even interested".

By way of contrast, other former leadership contenders Amy Adams and Mark Mitchell immediately ruled out leadership ambitions, even if they were fibbing.

The similarity between Cunliffe and Collins lies in their position in and potential effect on their party.

At this juncture, things for National are in the opening credits of Groundhog Day, that movie in which a man wakes up and lives over the same day again and again.

The script involves an Opposition leader up against a popular PM. The leader does not do anything wrong as such. But they fail to be anywhere near as popular as the popular PM, the polls start slipping or do not grow, MPs get the collywobbles and, lo, panic creates a new leader.

Repeat. Then repeat again and again.

Many National MPs watched as Labour churned through these leaders in the futile belief each one might be the magic antidote to former Prime Minister Sir John Key.

The big question is not whether National has learned from Labour's mistakes, but whether it can avoid falling into the temptation of repeating them.

Perhaps ironically, it was Collins herself who pointed out Labour's most obvious mistake.

She told RNZ National did not want "years and years of chopping and changing like Labour did".

The MPs' nerves are currently being held at bay by National's own internal polls, taken after the Reid Research poll which were reportedly a lot rosier for National.

However, Collins had previously set 35 per cent as the threshold at which she would have stood down as leader.

It is fair to say that mark has now moved to 40 per cent. National was at 41 per cent in the Newshub poll. A 1 News Colmar Brunton poll is also under way.

Any prospect of Collins taking over is premature and possibly slim.

Both Collins and Cunliffe both faced distrust among their colleagues. It is assuming voters to be fools to ask them to trust a leader if their own colleagues do not.

But desperate times often prompt desperate measures, not always with the best consequences.

As Cunliffe was in Labour, Collins is adored by a certain element of National's core base.

Collins is to the right of the party. She makes them laugh and cheer with her fighting talk. She grabs headlines and is fearless.

They think she can take it to Ardern and show Ardern up as some fraud. It would be a wild ride and not without excitement, but it would also be white-knuckle. Collins is also polarising.

Beyond that rump, the rest of National's current support base was won over by the calm, trusted leadership of Key and Sir Bill English.

It can not afford to lose those people, commonly known as the "centre".

Nor should National underestimate how much of its support base lies there.

Newshub ran a follow-up poll story on Tuesday, in which National voters were asked their preferences for leader. Bridges was at 19.6 per cent. Collins was on 27.1 per cent.

That leaves about half of National's voters unaccounted for - presumably waiting for the Second Coming of Key. Those are currently giving National the benefit of the doubt.

It is those National risks losing first and fastest. It is there the potential disaster lies under a leader such as Collins.