In our final extract from the scintillating new book Fury and Fury from author Wolf Michaels, we look at the fight to replace former Prime Minister Bill English. It seems our author had spent some time in the Collins camp during her campaign.
The day dawns slowly in southern Auckland. I’ve spent last night at the home of former lawyer Judith Collins. We are sitting with her husband enjoying a breakfast of six different kinds of meat accompanied with a tall glass of ice-cold Orivida milk. An icy silence hangs over the breakfast table. Collins is perusing her beloved WhaleOil blog on an unspecified tablet device while her husband and I look at each other suspiciously. It’s obvious he wonders why I’m there and I have to say I’m also having the same wonderings.
We were back in Wellington last evening. I was enjoying some drinks with the far right neo-fascist wing of the National Party. They don’t enjoy using that moniker in public but the pictures of Stalin and Mussolini upon the wall suggest they definitely enjoy using it. Bill English has just announced his resignation as National Party leader and the committee are meeting to discuss their plans. Judith is leading the discussion with the three other MPs who are there.
I’ve followed New Zealand politics for over two decades and I have absolutely no idea who these people are. I have never seen them in parliament, either in the chamber or walking around the building. None of the three have made any media appearances. I think back to the campaign last year and despite the amount of brain racking going on I am just not able to place them. Are they from the South Island or from further north? I suppose that is probably the price a party pays for getting nearly 45% of the vote. The lower ranks of your party list is peppered with all manner of unctuous committee members from around the country. Last year they were deciding on whether or not to spend $650 on repainting the downpipes of a local hall; now they are about to decide on a possible future Prime Minister.
Collins calls the meeting to order and tells the others present she is running and they will be voting for her. Her three new friends all agree with short nods of their heads. No words are returned. Although these are fresh, new members of parliament have not been around the scene very long, they are completely aware of the need not to say the wrong thing around Judith Collins. Crusher is well-known the world over for her passive aggressive responses to any questions.
Back at the breakfast table in Papakura, Ms Collins retrieves her phone and announces to the room, “It’s time.”
Both her husband and I look at each other wondering what it is time for and whether or not we should know anything else at this point.
Collins begins mumbles away to herself while she taps away on her phone before saying, “send,” and tapping the send button with a small flourish. Several short minutes later the phone starts ringing. She answers it and with a gentle voice of sugar syrup confirms whatever questions she is being answered. The phone call ends and Collins puts the phone down on the table and recommences her breakfast. Again her husband and I look at each other. Both of us have a what has just happened look on our faces. However, we’ve been around long enough to know the easiest way to face the wrath of Crusher is to ask her a question about anything involving her life.
Luckily, thanks to the caller being a member of the media, I was able to read a report that Collins was standing for the leadership of the National Party.
Fast forward two weeks and all three of us are enjoying another meat breakfast in the Papakura conservatory. What started with a distinct possibility of someone becoming the next Prime Minister has ended in abject failure. Last Tuesday the National Party held their secret ballot and the only result we know for certain is that Simon Bridges is now the party leader. Who received what level of support in the preferential vote remains unknown. My sources within the party have remained silent but the fury with which Collins has fumed in recent days suggest she definitely didn’t do well.
I look at her husband and subtly raise an eyebrow. He, equally as subtly, shakes his head. We are in agreement that mentioning anything about any subject at all during this breakfast would not only be a bad idea but would also endanger our lives. Ms Collins finishes her breakfast.
“I’ve had enough of your nonsense,” she announces, “I’m off for a nap.”
As she leaves the conservatory and returns to the coffin room, we again exchange subtle gestures communicating clearly to each other that no words will escape our lips until the head of the house is well asleep. Let us hope she is rewarded with some kind of front bench role in the new shadow cabinet, otherwise all future meals at the Collins household will be held in deathly silence.
Deathly Silence. I feel the murmurings of a new book beginning in the depths of my cerebral cortex. Nice.