Judith Collins blames COVID for poor polls, denies MPs are plotting to replace her with Simon Bridges

National leader Judith Collins, whose time in charge of the party has seen its polling tank, says she has "always put the National Party ahead of any ambition I have" - which is why she's refusing to quit as leader.

When she took the reins in July 2020, the party was averaging around 30 percent in the polls - as high as 38 percent in the 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll taken a few weeks beforehand, and as low as 25.1 according to a Newshub-Reid Research poll taken the week after she took over from Todd Muller. 

At the election in October National ended up with 25.6 percent. The most recent poll - conducted by Curia, which former National leader John Key said was the best pollster in the country - had National on just 21.8 percent, and Collins' personal ratings below that of ACT leader David Seymour. 

The Curia poll even had Collins ranking below Seymour amongst National supporters. Former leader Simon Bridges last week said the poor results had been talked about by the party's MPs, including "what it means" for the future of the leadership. 

Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday morning, Collins rejected host Tova O'Brien's claim MPs had told her they're unhappy with her leadership. 

"I'm going to make this very clear - I've never seen the caucus so happy. The caucus is actually really happy working hard on the things that matter to New Zealanders… What I'm seeing is a caucus that is dedicated to doing the work and they're not talking about anything else."

O'Brien said MPs have told her otherwise, and Bridges has the numbers to roll her. On Friday Bridges said he was a "has-been" with no interest in picking up where he left off. 

O'Brien asked Collins whether she'd consider stepping down "graciously" to give someone else a go, like Labour's Andrew Little did in 2017 - paving the way for Jacinda Ardern, who rescued the party from a decade of bad polling and catapulted them back into Government. 

Collins - who once said she'd quit if the party fell below 35 percent, a figure it's never polled at since she took over, suggested the party's bad polling was down to COVID-19.

"Everybody understands we are in a COVID lockdown situation and we're always aware of what happens with that. It happened to Simon Bridges when he was at 40-odd percent and then we dropped down to about 23."

It's not clear what poll Collins was referring to. In February 2020, National was comfortably polling in the 40s. There was a slide after the first lockdown was announced, but the worst result the party had under Bridges' leadership was 29 percent, in a 1 News-Colmar Brunton poll. 

"I want to make this really clear - I am staying. I am not going. I am staying," said Collins. "I have a job to do, I'm doing that job. I've had to make some changes to make sure we can do that job better. If I look at our team, I know that they're focused on the job."

Judith Collins and Simon Bridges.
Judith Collins and Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Newshub.

She didn't answer whether she'd be happy to work under Bridges, if he did resume the leadership. 

Collins denied the party had hired a PR company to improve her image, but said there was work being done to "up our game around social media, how we can up our game around messaging".

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