Judith Collins' backing of Christopher Luxon likely has little sway after 'appalling' process - political commentator

Judith Collins may be backing Christopher Luxon as the next leader of the National Party, but her endorsement likely holds little sway with her caucus colleagues after her recent actions, one political commentator says.

Just hours after receiving a vote of no confidence from National MPs, former leader Collins told Newshub's Amelia Wade there were likely going to be a "couple of candidates" vying for her old job. Newshub understands the challengers could include Luxon, Mark Mitchell and Simon Bridges.

Perhaps unsurprisingly when asked if she supports Bridges - who Collins had just demoted after an allegation of serious misconduct - the former leader simply replied "ah, no". It was the same for Bridges' mate Mitchell.

But Luxon was a different story, with Collins saying her Auckland colleague "works really hard and he's highly intelligent".

Grant Duncan, a political commentator and an associate professor in politics with Massey University, told Newshub any endorsement from Collins probably means very little to her fellow caucus members.

He echoed the thoughts of some National MPs in saying the process in which Collins released a statement demoting Bridges, saying she had the unanimous support of the board - which now appears not to be the case - without briefing caucus first was "absolutely appalling". 

"For that reason alone, and for other reasons, Judith Collins will have lost a lot of respect amongst her caucus colleagues," he said. "Therefore, it cannot be guaranteed that the person whom she endorses as the next leader is necessarily going to be supported by the rest of the crew."

Duncan said it's very different to say former National leader and Prime Minister Sir John Key's endorsement of Sir Bill English in December 2016. While other MPs considered a tilt at the job, including Collins, they ended up falling in line behind Sir Bill.

Luxon has long been speculated as a future party leader. The former Air New Zealand chief executive and good friend of Sir John has flicked away those rumours, telling Newshub this week he had not been approached by colleagues about the leadership.

But while he may have been biding his time to take over either closer to the 2023 election or after it were National to lose, Duncan said Luxon will now likely have to pounce. 

"I would expect he has to move now. Now is his chance. It may come up unexpectedly. Let's assume he will put his hat in the ring. It's now or never really."

But the political commentator says there is a lot of uncertainty about who his opponents could end up being. 

"There will be a lot of media speculation, of course, about who the next leader will be. There are some obvious names. Given the uncertainty of the field and the inner ruptions that are going on, that have been caused by this really extraordinary and inappropriate process that's happened... keep an open mind really about who might win in this coming contest."

He said Collins' deputy, and now interim leader, Dr Shane Reti had come out of the ordeal with his dignity intact as had Mitchell, who was blunt in his assessment of the "deeply disrespectful" Collins. 

"I wouldn't necessarily say that either of them wouldn't be a good candidate, as well as Luxon," Duncan said.

National MPs will meet next Tuesday to decide their next leader. Bridges has said he is considering it, while a Newshub source said Luxon and Mitchell were seen as contenders on Thursday. 

Collins told Newshub it was a "great relief" to no longer be leader and she was "very, very pleased" with how the day went down, despite losing the leadership.

She earlier tweeted that when she was told of the inappropriate comment Bridges made, which he has apologised for, she knew "I would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously".

But just hours earlier, on Thursday morning, she told Newshub she didn't expect to lose the leadership.

Collins also spent Thursday night tweeting back at another user discussing her handling of the Bridges allegations, telling them they didn't have all the details.

Both Reti and Bridges said Collins had faced difficult circumstances as leader, taking the reins after the shocking resignation of Todd Muller, just months from an election and amid the COVID-19 pandemic.