Tova O'Brien: From the chaos rose Judith Collins

OPINION: Well, that was one of the most exceptional days in politics - and one of the toughest for the National Party, up there with Jami-Lee Ross and the party suffering its worst drubbing back in 2002. 

Todd Muller's shock resignation 67 days out from an election following a brief and frankly disastrous stint beset by leaks, scandal, misguided - and totally inappropriate - tokenism and ultimately an inability to overcome any of it.

Muller left his MPs stunned mullets yesterday as they made their way back to Wellington.

The good

But from chaos rose Judith Collins. Fitting really, given she's the kind of person that appears to thrive on chaos.

In situations when most people might panic or flap about, for Collins the intensity seems to bring out a kind of calm. Case in point yesterday, in the maelstrom Collins was an oasis of calm. This is a trait that will see her well as we head into what will likely be one of the most intense and chaotic election campaigns. 

Alongside her unflappability Collins has three big things going for her come Decision 2020:

  • Name recognition: Collins needs no introduction, crucial so close to an election, she's not starting cold
  • Anti-Ardern: Collins is DEFINITELY not Jacinda Ardern. Though they share a lot of admirable traits - smart, charismatic, fierce, driven, consummate politicians - the two leaders could not be less alike. National is not attempting to beat Ardern at her own game - that would be a fool's errand - but instead changing the game completely. Smart.
  • Hand to hand combat: Case in point, Collins' work in opposition to KiwiBuild. Muller's promise of not being in 'opposition for opposition's sake' is out the window.

The bad

The potentially bad news for Collins is caucus disunity, something she knows a lot about. 

She got off to a rip-snorting start with that show of force last night, almost the entire caucus pouring down from the third floor into the Legislative Council Chamber behind Collins, as she proudly proclaimed 'this is our front bench!'

If that's indeed a true representation of the party's loyalty then she's in with a chance but there has long been a strong ABC, 'Anyone But Collins', coterie in the National caucus and whether they'll stay in line is yet to be determined. 

That said there's a recognition within National that the party's been its own worst enemy thanks in large part to its fractured caucus so if the Nats truly want to be in it to win it they'll 'zip it sweetie' and get behind Collins. 

This was evidenced this morning when members of the ABC Club rocked up to parliament publicly espousing nothing but praise for the woman who they'd previously reserved only bile and disdain - privately and publicly. 

The ugly

Judith Collins is by no means going to sail to victory. Leaving aside for one moment the immense popularity of Jacinda Ardern, Collins comes with baggage - big time.

Oravida, Dirty Politics, the Machiavellian streak is strong in that one.

She's also popular with the National Party base, certainly the right of the party, and she'll pick up Simon Bridge's 'tough on crime' mantle which plays especially well with the party. 

But the centre is where elections are won and lost and that will be the other big challenge for Collins to win over the hearts and minds of swing voters and centre voters - hearts and minds that have overwhelmingly been won by Jacinda Ardern, for now.

Tova O'Brien is Newshub's political editor.