The Semblance Of Rectitude: A meditation on the fate of Judith Collins.



WHAT MAKES A PERSON LASH OUT in the way Judith Collins lashed out last night on TV3? In some part of her being the voice of reason was surely shouting: “No! Judith, stop! Don’t do it!”

She should have listened to her rational self, because there is no place in the world of political light that publicly attacking a perfectly innocent Press Gallery journalist could ever be a good idea. And even in the world of political shadow there are very few who would recommend it. And yet, Collins did it: she attacked Katie Bradford; wilfully bringing down upon her head all the readily predictable consequences of such political folly.


I suspect the answer lies in the immense difficulty Collins is currently experiencing in keeping all the aspects of her personality in alignment. She may even have reached the point where, surveying her predicament, she realises that the task she has set herself is impossible. That remaining a loving and loyal partner to her husband; a constructive member of the National Party Caucus; an effective Cabinet Minister; and a useful colleague to the Prime Minister have become mutually contradictory goals.

It is easy to forget that politicians have private lives. That within their closest relationships there are often emotional imperatives every bit as strong as the strict political obligations of their official existence. Obeying such imperatives may not always lead a politician down the paths of righteousness. The rules of the Cabinet Manual and the promptings of the heart will very often, I suspect, diverge. And what are a set of dry old rules compared to the gleam of love and gratitude in one’s partner’s eyes. People are not made of stone.

In the Western tradition, however, the leading figures of the state are supposed to be exactly that. Stone statues of rectitude, impervious to all the usual human frailties. Constitutional avatars, far above the petty deeds and insatiable greed of the vulgar masses. When Julius Caesar’s wife fell victim to the baseless slanders of his enemies he divorced her, telling the citizens of Rome that: “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

That is an impossibly high standard. Human-beings are not made of marble, but of flesh and blood. Who would not, therefore, resent the demands placed upon them by the sort of rule-book that prevented them from helping their spouses? Wouldn’t we be tempted to say: “Fuck the rules!”?

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And that is the point-of-no-return. The journey from the world of political light to the world of political shadow begins right there: with the politician’s refusal to follow Caesar’s ruthless example of sacrificing the needs and desires of one’s nearest and dearest upon the altar of one’s constitutional obligations. And, having made that refusal, further resolving that, henceforth, a mere semblance of rectitude will have to do.

But a semblance of rectitude cannot be maintained without the support of, at best, partial truths and, at worst, outright lies and deception. Under such conditions political life becomes dangerously contingent. The threat of exposure, of the unreality of their constitutional probity becoming plain to all, begins to weigh more and more heavily on the politician’s mind.

Initially, it is only his or her colleagues who begin to notice that the politician’s rectitude is no longer real, and that he or she has grown increasingly adept at lying. Some will drift away, but others, themselves accomplished dissemblers, will draw closer. Eventually a culture of deceit grows up around such politicians and they find it difficult to recall the time when they were not required to dissemble: when their rectitude was real. Gradually, the shadows deepen about them and their political world grows dark.

It is, therefore, only natural that when the news media directs a blinding shaft of light upon the rotting thing that was once their political rectitude they lash out in fury.

Not just at those bearing the light, but at the all-too-human weaknesses that led their better selves into the dark.


  1. This article seems to want to romanticise Ms Collins’ behaviour a little too much in my opinion. A well-planned taxpayer-funded jaunt with the potential for personal enrichment, as the result of some love-soaked eye-gazing, seems like a trip into the emotional and intellectual wilderness. I’m sure Bonnie and Clyde we’re similarly “human.” The morality of truth and lies is something we teach children … and they get it without the aid of emotional maturity. That represents quite some gulf to leap over – in order to rationalise the Minister of Justice telling lies from start to finish. “Fuck the Rules” tells the clients of our Justice system what message exactly?

    • Absolutely, the trip to china was clearly calculated to help her husband’s company, and to induce donations to National. But to be fair to Chris, I think his theory was only intended to explain her recent attempts to sling mud at the press gallery, and in this regard it strikes me as very plausible. Her behaviour in the original interview looks like petty vindictiveness aimed at the people who she thinks ruined her friends career, not a carefully calculated political move.

      • I’m not convinced that her latest effort showed any distinct behavioral characteristics not in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from this woman. Petty vindictiveness runs it’s thread through everything she says and does. (remember the Collins, Tolley, Turia clothing spat?) There is always the argument that the iceberg was partially responsible for the Titanic’s demise, in order to mitigate personal human failing, – and with an equal level of plausibility.

  2. Damn. I hope she doesn’t resign.

    Once the Nats lose the election, Key will resign; Collins will take his place; and she will make National unelectable (a-la Jenny Shipley).

    I had it all planned out… 😉

  3. So many words to say so little…can you think of anything Judith Collins has done that is meaningful in the scheme of things…she dreamed of crushing cars and crushed none. Name one thing that she’ll be remembered for in both the Justice or police areas…there are none. Judith should depart as soon as possible and Key should follow her. NZ will be a better place for her departure.

    • I think the nub of the article is this… ‘the answer lies in the immense difficulty Collins is currently experiencing in keeping all the aspects of her personality in alignment.’ Yup. What’s that old adage – if you tell one lie you have to tell 10 more to cover it up? It would take sheer Machiavellian genuis to pull off what she is trying to do. Collins is not a genuis.

  4. The disdain this Collins woman has for ordinary Kiwis and telling the truth typifies her Tory values and she seems a shallow pastiche of humanity.

    Hiding behind her Twitter account, her ascerbic bile knew no bounds. Gilmore had similar arrogant Tory tendencies when he proclaimed “Don’t you know who I am?”. But he was a nobody, nobody knew who he was, or cared and he was “gone by lunchtime”.
    But Collins is a ‘somebody’ and needs different treatment.

    Nick Smith’s contriteness could be a model for her and all errant Tories.

    When Collins’ true nature seeped out from her corrupt croneyistic carapace, she should have cried, gone into exile and come back, pretending to listen and “consult” and wear proper down-to-earth clothes. Don’t get me started on clothes.

    Collins’ apologies have lacked sincerity.

    Her evasion in giving up her Chinese BFF-border official, is only matched in her stupidity in trying to divert attention from herself by dumping a “Williamson croney interference gambit” on Ms Bradford.

    Yes Collins needs a holiday, preferably permanent.

    While she is on holiday, she needs to contact her BFF in China and ask permission to throw him under the blue bus, the same way that National have thrown Maurice under the croney National Party pink bus.

    Still, the longer she remains uncontrite, uncooperative, uncontrollable and uncouth, the more ordinary Kiwis see more of the nasty Tory values she typifies.

    Her antics can only help all the opposition parties. Long may she stay in the news and in the MSM and e-limelight.

  5. Judith Collins behaviour is very consistent, she will do whatever it takes to get her own way. Just reflect on her behaviour when the Independent Canadian Judge Binnie presented his report on the David Bane Case, Judith Collins went out of her way to get it peer reviewed by one of her cronies here in New Zealand.

    “Cronyism is alive and well here in NZ always has been, however do you blame her, she is in a position where she can win friends and influence people”.

  6. “Everybody needs a little time away,” I heard her say, “from each other.”
    “Even lover’s need a holiday far away from each other.”

    An even longer stress leave, er, break would be in order for Judith, but we may have to wait until September. Everything you suspected about tories seems true, it is extraordinary to see in plain view.

  7. Oh, come now, so she did it all for the love of her husband?

    As Murray Smith said above, methinks you romanticise the woman too much. Somehow I doubt love has much to do with anything she does.

  8. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” – Sir Walter Scott

  9. She needs to do what Pansy Wong did.

    Make the decision about whether to honour her husband, or her government.

  10. Why are there no questions about the role of the Husband? How did he get the job, what experience did he have? How did he get picked for the job? Is his background in management, directorships, marketing, logistics, trade with China?? Just what is there about the Husband that got him the job? When will someone ask?

  11. One of our trusted NZ news outlets said this today:

    Opposition MPs grill defiant Judith Collins

    Defiant, sorry, but I was in another universe watching a different channel, the person I was watching seemed more like this

    Pinched faced, her fangs densely rolled up Justice laws dissolving in the saliva of hypocrisy wetting to paper mache, mouth full.

    Choking, clinging desperately to the podium, plucked chicken wings barely flapping, weighed down by the foul dense wind of self interest, a chirp, just audible segues its way out to the chamber, I did nothing wrong John, I did nothing wrong……………….

  12. Silly, shouty Judith.

    She’s shown irretrievably that her word is worth nothing to anyone. Including her spouse.

    What a fool.

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