If you go with Gower, you are backing Bennett and bypassing the blokes who hanker to be next leader

"When I say this big, I'm not talking about poll support."

“When I say this big, I’m not talking about her poll support.”

Patrick Gower admits he is a plonker who got it wrong last time. And Alf reckons he has got it wrong this time.

Last time he predicted Crusher was a likely National leader to succeed The Boss.

This time he is putting his money on Paula Bennett.

Alf trusts he is not putting too much money on Paula.

This by no means is meant to reflect unkindly on our splendid Minister for Social Development. When it comes to the crunch – or the crush – pretty well anybody in the National team would make a better prime minister than anyone the lefties or greenies could throw into the ring.

But it does seem Gower has a thing about Rubenesque sheilas with a bit of beef and solid thighs.

This diverts his attention from the line-up of blokes who are biding their time to move up the line of command into the leadership job.

How he could have failed to recognise the bulldozer political style of someone fondly called Crusher is something for him to explain.

But in some pap he has written on the Herald website, he reflects somewht ruefully on the week the Crusher got crushed.

Sure, Judith Collins technically got off the hook once again because the Prime Minister is too scared to do anything about her with the election so close.

But Collins’ political reputation has taken a hammering thanks to the revelations in Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics.

Her political ambitions have been damaged. And her leadership hopes are now smashed to smithereens.

That’s certainly the way things look now.

And Gower has cause to be disappointed because:

Just over 18 months ago, I named Collins my Politician of the Year after she barnstormed her way into contention to take over as National Party leader when John Key stands down.

Collins had a growing support base with National’s rank-and-file. She was building her profile nicely.

The received political wisdom was that the leadership was between her and Steven Joyce should Key lose or quit.

Then came the Oravida scandal. Collins handled it poorly and ended up having a blow-out.

The Prime Minister then got out one of his sopping wet tickets to the Crusher bus and banned her from Twitter.

Collins lost a lot of her political capital over Oravida and gained a whole lot of political baggage.

Memories will be fresh enough to need no recounting of hacked messages showing Crusher tipped off the Whale Oil blogger to the name and number of a public servant, opening him up to attack.

There was also talk of how the two of them like revenge, with Collins explaining: : “You know the rule — always return with double.”

It was ugly and unsavoury stuff. You don’t need to be a political scientist to recognise this is not the back-story of a party leader — quite the opposite.

My National Party sources tell me that Collins now might not even have a single MP in the caucus who would back her to take the leadership.

The sources say even the tight core that was around her a year ago have fallen away.

Gower’s sources obviously do not include anyone who knows for sure Alf’s position on the matter.

They could not know because this position remains a matter of confidence between Alf and his conscience, tempered – of course – by what’s in it for Alf.

Gower proceeds to knock our splendid Minister for Economic Development out of the running.

As for Joyce, just because you are Key’s lieutenant doesn’t mean you automatically become general.

Consider his extraordinarily unhinged performance on The Nation three weeks ago.

He looked like he was talking in tongues as he tried to boss his way through a debate by yelling over everyone, including host Lisa Owen. It was arrogant, and hardly the stuff of a future leader.

If Joyce acts like that on live television, imagine what he is like in the caucus room or around the Cabinet table. He does not play well with others.

Gower then said something that momentarily raised Alf’s hopes. His talents had been recognised at long last:

So who in National is likeable, can keep their ego in check, doesn’t have any baggage but does have public appeal and the chutzpah to be leader?

It must be (drum roll, please) Alf Grumble

Alas no. Alf’s joy did not last because Gower immediately gave another name in answering his own question:

Paula Bennett.

When Bennett walks into National’s campaign launch today, the party faithful won’t be judging her like they will be Collins.

They will be looking at Bennett approvingly, and Collins with barely concealed disappointment.

Alf can only imagine that Gower, with his fondness for biggish females, will be looking at Bennett approvingsly and Collins with barely concealed disappointment, because he has only just learned why he was way off beam last year in seeing her as prime minister material.

If he looks around he might see more than a few blokes who look like future national leaders. Alf will be sitting in their midst.

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