A brief dive into the National Party's recent troubled history

The National Party is in chaos again. 

It's been less than two years since Simon Bridges was ousted as leader after his popularity dropped in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as New Zealanders rallied behind the Government's elimination success. 

Since then, the party has had two new leaders, an MP was sacked for sending inappropriate text messages, an MP quit for leaking sensitive patient data to the media, and a candidate stepped down after his partner revealed he impersonated her online.

Let's take a look back. 

Jami-Lee Ross saga

The National Party's woes arguably began when former MP Jami-Lee Ross accused then-leader Bridges in 2019 of committing electoral fraud by asking him to split up a $100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman into smaller amounts, so they could be hidden from the Electoral Commission.

In the end, it was Ross - who later went independent and created his own unsuccessful Advance NZ party which peddled misinformation and is now deregistered - who is facing Serious Fraud Office charges. 

Bridges loses support

Fast-forward to 2020, and the world was plunged into a pandemic. The Government's decision to extend the first lockdown in April had wide public support, but Bridges criticised the move in a Facebook post that saw National supporters threaten to abandon him

Following months of unrest within the National Party after a devastating Newshub-Reid Research poll that saw National eclipsed by Labour, Bridges was rolled as leader. 

Todd Muller's short reign

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller made his move against Bridges in May last year, taking the helm after receiving majority support in an emergency caucus meeting. It came after months of speculation he would try for the leadership. 

But it wasn't long before Muller, and his deputy Nikki Kaye, fell into controversy - not least of all when Kaye claimed MP Paul Goldsmith was Māori. National MPs told Newshub at the time it was "embarrassing and quite frankly appalling"

Muller then had to face up to another controversy. This time it was then-Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker who leaked sensitive COVID-19 patient data to the media. 

Walker eventually quit. It turned out former National Party president Michelle Boag gave Walker the information, which she had access to as acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.   

All the pressure got to Muller and he resigned suddenly in July last year. He later revealed he was suffering from panic attacks and that his family "bore the brunt of it".

Rise of Collins

Muller's resignation led to the rise of Judith Collins and her then-deputy Gerry Brownlee. Collins had long been rumoured as a potential party leader. She put her hand up for the job when former leader Bill English stepped down in 2018, but she lost to Bridges.

Andrew Falloon scandal

Collins almost immediately faced a scandal. It emerged that there were "at least five" complaints against former National MP Andrew Falloon from women who accused him of sending lewd images. Falloon resigned.

Election 2020 defeat

Three months later, National MPs were already telling Newshub they were predicting another leadership spill. But Collins was defiant and determined to lead National into the election, which was delayed due to COVID-19.  

During the campaign, Newshub was leaked an email showing former National MP Denise Lee criticising Collins' plan to review Auckland Council as a "highly problematic idea".

The scandal, combined with all the others, led National to a crushing election defeat. Collins later admitted the leak contributed to the defeat. National's caucus shrunk from 56 after the 2017 election to 33.  

Post-election scandals

Ever since National's election defeat, Collins' leadership has been under the microscope and scandals have continued. 

National Party candidate Jake Bezzant resigned from the party in June after his ex-girlfriend accused him in a podcast of posing as her to solicit explicit images online. Collins said it was "disgraceful". 

At around the same time, Collins denied allegations she forced veteran MP Nick Smith to retire from Parliament so she could replace him with a political ally, Harete Hipango. 

And in another embarrassment for the party, it was revealed former leader Muller stood down after admitting to badmouthing his colleague Hipango to a journalist - and being quoted

Since then, Collins has struggled to shake off rumours of a leadership challenge. She's blamed her low popularity in the polls on how hard it is to "tell people they got sold a pup at the election". 

In the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, Collins' popularity dropped to 6.1 percent, behind ACT leader David Seymour on 11.9 percent and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 41.7 percent. 

National also failed to capitalise on recent dissatisfaction with the Government's COVID-19 response, with Labour on 42.7 percent and ACT rising 4.9 points to 26.9 percent. The same poll found 40.7 percent support for Bridges as leader compared to 23.2 percent for Collins

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