Judith Collins remains National's best bet despite 'cataclysmic' poll results - former Labour Party president Mike Williams

A former Labour Party president has made his pick for who might be able to pull the National Party out of its slump, and it's probably the last person you'd expect.

Mike Williams - who was Labour president during Helen Clark's years as Prime Minister - says of the current crop of National MPs, Judith Collins really is their best bet. 

"The National Party, they really are in a very cataclysmic position," he told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"I'm reminded of an Armenian proverb which goes, 'Just because your wife left you, your house burnt down and your well went dry, doesn't mean your horse isn't gonna die.' They're just going from bad to worse. I can't see a way out. 

"They lost their best and brightest - people like Paula Bennett, Steven Joyce, Bill English at the last election - Amy Adams. When you speculate on who the leader is - what,  a retread of Simon Bridges? He's a nice bloke… I don't think he wants to do it anymore. Then you've got [Chris Luxon] - he gave a very waffly performance on television over the weekend. 

"I think they're between the devil and the deep blue sea. The only thing I could see that could pull them out of it is if Judith Collins lifted her game - which she is actually capable of doing."

The problem for National is Collins has done little to stem the flow of votes to ACT. The most recent Colmar Brunton-1 News poll, released on Monday, showed the party slipping from 29 to 26 percent, and ACT rising from 9 to 14 percent. It follows a Curia poll two weeks ago which had National on 21.3 percent and a Newshub-Reid Research poll in August, which had National on 28.7 percent. 

All three polls had Labour sitting in the mid-40s, slipping a little but still well-placed with support from the Greens (8 percent in the Colmar Brunton poll) to form the next Government. 

"Forty-three percent of the vote four years into your Government is something John Key and Helen Clark would have killed for," said Williams. Both Clark and Sir John Key's Governments had that level of support four years into their terms. National maintained theirs right up until losing the 2017 election largely thanks to Winston Peters, while Clark's began slipping ahead of the 2005 election, which Labour only won by a hair's breadth. 

Mike Williams and Trish Sherson on The AM Show.
Mike Williams and Trish Sherson on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

Trish Sherson, communications expert and former ACT Party press secretary, told The AM Show the poll was "another debacle" for National. If they can't fix it, she reckons they risk losing their "soft" voters to Labour in 2023 "to keep the Greens out" of power.

"That is not a debacle, it's a catastrophe for National." 

She put ACT's rise down to leader David Seymour, comparing him to Sir John, who comfortably won three elections as National leader. Seymour had twice the support of Collins as preferred Prime Minister in the Colmar Brunton poll, and more than Collins, Bridges and Luxon put together. 

"[Seymour is] a great example of that political alchemy which seems so simple but is so rare - the ability to connect with people on the things that they care about because you can talk about them in a really simple way. That was shown over the weekend as well with Sir John Key riding out to the rescue because people connected with his methods. I think that's what's happening here with David." 

Sherson said it's not clear if anyone currently in the National caucus can pull them back from the brink of oblivion.

"The party itself needs to get a grip on what its purpose is and where it's actually going, and be able to articulate that… I am not at a point where I would predict anyone to successfully lead the National Party out of the debacle."