NZ election 2020: 'Third-choice' Judith Collins can't beat Jacinda Ardern - David Parker

The struggling National Party's latest 'Hail Mary' pass is doomed to fail, a senior Labour MP has claimed.

Barely two months out from the election, National has given the leadership to Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee.

Between them they have more than 40 years of parliamentary experience, but that also comes with a lot of baggage - Collins is no stranger to controversy and has had a rocky path to the leadership, while Brownlee's handling of post-quake Christchurch still angers many locals.

But with National dipping below 30 percent in the most recent polls and Todd Muller quitting the leadership after just 53 days in charge, the party turned to Collins - who'd been rejected for the job by the caucus twice before.

"I don't think it'll work," Labour's David Parker told The AM Show on Friday, saying Collins' in-your-face style wasn't his "cup of tea".

"She was third-choice for the National Party - they've gone through three [leaders] in two months. I think it's time for people to come together, rather than be divided, and that's the contrast between the two leaders we're now facing as a country."

Asked for specifics about how she's divided people, Parker said it was "her pedigree for her two decades in politics".

"I've been there during those two decades. You can't throw that off. 'Crusher' Collins - she wore it as a badge of honour."

Whilst Collins did vow on Tuesday to "crush the other lot", she's sought recently to soften her image - telling The AM Show on June she "hated that whole image".

Parker unsuccessfully ran for the Labour Party leadership in 2014, losing to Andrew Little. He said Collins' ascension wouldn't change Labour's strategy in the campaign.

"I don't think it changes the game at all. It's actually about New Zealanders. We had a plan to stamp out COVID, cushion the blow and help the economy recover. That's what we're on about."

His boss Jacinda Ardern had similar thoughts, on Wednesday saying her "mind hasn't been particularly focused" on the National Party's woes.

David Parker and Simon Bridges.
David Parker and Simon Bridges live on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

Former National leader Simon Bridges told Parker Labour is underestimating Collins.

"Look, we've had a bruising time - there's no doubt about that, we are the underdog. But I'll tell you what - we're on the comeback. I think what we can all say about Judith is that she's strong, she's tough, she's very experienced and she knows what she's about. You would underestimate us, Davo, at your peril."

It's too early for any scientific polling to have been carried out since Collins took the reins, so Bridges' claim of being "on the comeback" can't be corroborated. Polls conducted after Muller rolled Bridges showed no improvement in National's prospects. The most recent, released by Roy Morgan earlier this week, had Labour on 54 and National on 27. In January the two major parties were virtually neck-and-neck, though Labour arguably has more options in terms of viable coalition partners.

"There's a stark choice. We've got a cricketer here," Parker said, referring to AM Show sportsreader Mark Richardson, a former Blackcap.

"If you've got a captain and you're on the winning team in the world in beating COVID, would you change the captain halfway through the journey? I think New Zealanders know that. I actually think National's going to go down in the polls from here, not up."

Bridges couldn't argue with New Zealand's success so far, but said Labour had no plan to deal with the economic carnage the pandemic has caused.

"Credit due - we've done a good job on COVID so far. We don't want to be Victoria or the US. But in terms of the future, in terms of the plan, I don't know what Labour's plan is - and I'm listening pretty carefully. I haven't seen any infrastructure build, I haven't seen any job creation schemes and plans to enable growth and do things. I just haven't seen them."

Parker said Bridges was talking "rubbish", noting the Government had just passed legislation to fast-track consents for big infrastructure projects.

"The bridges-to-nowhere man can't really have a crack on that front," he said, referring to a number of bridges the former National leader promised in 2015, not all of which ended up being delivered.

The election will be held on September 19.

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