Judith Collins: What the world makes of National's new leader

After snatching the reins to the National Party just 67 days out from the election, Judith Collins has become a fixture in national headlines as the hard-headed MP at the helm of a caucus in disarray, following an exodus of MPs and party turmoil.

Following former National leader Todd Muller's shock departure last Tuesday after a 53-day tenure, Collins has made international news as the Opposition's second change in leadership within a matter of months - let alone in an election year.

Locally, the 'Crusher' Collins moniker - a nickname she describes as a "caricature" of herself - arguably dominates her reputation. And it's not much different overseas, with international press drawing comparisons between Collins and Margaret Thatcher - Britain's former 'Iron Lady' Prime Minister renowned for her uncompromising politics. 

As Collins approaches her first week at National's wheel, here's what international media is saying about the Opposition's fifth leader in four years.

"New Zealand's Iron Lady" - The Times

In a piece for The Times on Saturday, Sydney-based journalist Bernard Lagan called Collins "New Zealand's Iron Lady", in stark contrast to "young, appealing" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Going on to describe Ardern as "elegant" and "savvy", Lagan also referred to Muller as a "towering, plodding former dairy company executive from the provinces".

"Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand's most popular leader in years; Judith Collins is facing an uphill battle to oust her," he wrote. 

A Reuters wire republished by the likes of the New York Times also referred to Collins as an "admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher".

Collins beside one of her campaign hoardings.
Collins beside one of her campaign hoardings. Photo credit: Getty

"If anyone can demand NZ's National Party [to] pull its socks up, it's Judith Collins" - The Guardian

Conversely, Massey University pro vice-chancellor Claire Robinson made the claim that "if anyone can demand New Zealand's National party [to] pull its socks up, it's Judith Collins" in a piece for The Guardian's world news. 

Robinson says whether or not Collins can "pull off one of the biggest upsets in the country's electoral history" will become central to a future "rule book" on switching leaders, twice, in the midst of a global pandemic and recession. 

While musing as to whether Ardern will maintain her positive poll results through to election day, Robinson praised Collins as an "experienced" MP and Cabinet minister, as well as a "popular" albeit "polarising" personality.

"She has persevered through many highs and lows in the public spotlight to finally emerge into the coveted role that has eluded her until now," Robinson wrote.

Despite being widely known by her moniker 'Crusher' Collins, the Opposition leader says the nickname is a "one-dimensional" caricature of herself, but doesn't accurately represent her.
Despite being widely known by her moniker 'Crusher' Collins, the Opposition leader says the nickname is a "one-dimensional" caricature of herself, but doesn't accurately represent her. Photo credit: Getty

"Outspoken" 'Crusher' Collins' Twitter history to haunt election battle - news.com.au

News.com.au national affairs reporter Benedict Brook has highlighted Collins' controversial Twitter history ("I am a woman of colour - the colour white") ahead of the election - making a nod to both her carefully arched brows and 'Crusher' moniker within the opening synopsis. 

A paragraph ('Crusher Collins') leans into Collins' no-nonsense, hard-headed persona, presenting her as Ardern's tough-talking opponent.

"Collins - who is nicknamed 'Crusher' from the time she proposed legislation to 'crush' the cars of persistent boy racers - said last night she wouldn't shy away from targeting the popular Ms Ardern, 39, and vowed the Prime Minister and Labour Party leader wouldn't get away with any 'nonsense'," he wrote.

"Asked what traits she had over Ms Ardern, she said: 'Experience, toughness and the ability to make tough decisions'."

Speaking to The Project earlier this month, Collins publicly denounced her 'Crusher' persona, calling it "one-dimensional" and a "caricature" of herself.

"It's not my favourite and I never use it myself. I know that some people love it and some people walk past and go, 'Oh, go Crusher'," she said.

"I don't say, 'Don't you call me that', because people quite like it. But it's very one-dimensional, it is a caricature and a cartoonist's dream.

"But it's not me."

In an interview with The Hui over the weekend, Collins also responded to criticism aimed at another race-related comment, in which the Opposition leader said she was "sick of being demonised" for her ethnicity.

"The fact I'm white is a fact - I can't do anything about it," Collins said.

"Just because someone has white skin doesn't mean to say that they don't actually feel, care about and have empathy for all New Zealanders.

"But in terms of things like this, I will never apologise for being who I am... I will not be told that because I happen to be white that I don't care, I don't empathise or anything else."