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National MPs will elect a new leader next week after a bruising caucus session dumped Judith Collins on what has been described as "not our best day" for the party.
Former leader Simon Bridges (45) has revealed he is considering seeking a return to the role - saying National under Collins "haven't done a good enough job".
- Bridges' comments 'upset me at the time': Dean
- Collins confirms loss of leadership
- Reti takes interim helm at National
Collins was removed in a vote of no-confidence today - punished by her colleagues just 12 hours after a hamfisted attempt to discipline Bridges.
A crisis caucus meeting began at 9am today, prompted by Collins' shock announcement last night that she had demoted Bridges over a comment he made to Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean about five years ago.
Several MPs had publicly declared today that Collins (62) was not fit to remain as National's leader - with Bridges attacking her actions as "truly desperate".
It is understood Mark Mitchell and Christopher Luxon are the candidates to replace her, with a caucus vote on Tuesday to decide the winner.
In the meantime, current deputy Shane Reti (58) is interim leader. The deputy leader role will remain vacant for now.
Bridges today confirmed he would consider over the next few days whether to seek to reclaim the leadership.
Recent polling for the National Party was poor and the buck stopped with the leader.
"We haven't done a good enough job," Bridges said of the party's approach to major issues such as inflation.
He said compared to the Bridges of a few years ago, he was today "an older, possibly wiser guy".
"I do think I have a sense of what New Zealand needs at this time."
Asked if Collins should stand at the next election, Bridges said: "I made it clear this morning that I didn't have confidence with Judith Collins".
Bridges said he was "euphemistically, very unhappy" with Collins' press statement last night.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," he replied when asked if he was the party's heir apparent, but said was trying to be upfront about his aspirations.
"I could work with various coalition partners if that was the privilege National had.
"I do think I've learned from it and I do know the toll it takes, and I do know National's building off a very low base," Bridges said when asked about the responsibilities of party leadership.
Bridges, like Reti, was taciturn when asked about the nature of caucus discussions, and would keep private what he called private conversations.
"I don't think it's helpful to go through the minute details," he said when asked about Collins dredging up his years-old remarks.
Bridges said as a former lawyer he was appalled with the lack of due process and natural justice that characterised Collins' demotion of him last night.
Bridges told reporters after the caucus meeting that several years ago when Dean was in earshot he had repeated "old wives' tales" about how people could conceive girls.
"Some time after Bill English, who at the time was Deputy Prime Minister, called me into his office to discuss this," Bridges said.
"I was very regretful and apologised."
In a statement today, Dean said the comment Bridges made to her five years ago "upset me at the time".
"They were not about me, but they were inappropriate and not something I wanted to hear.
"At the time there was an apology, but subsequently it has continued to play on my mind and with the recent reviews that have occurred in Parliament the feelings have been brought back up.
"What matters to me is that all of us have a clear understanding of what behaviour we should expect in a modern workplace environment.
"Simon and I have spoken a number of times over the past few hours and he has reiterated his apology.
"As I'm sure can be appreciated, the publicity around this has been upsetting and I ask that my privacy is respected on this."
Goodfellow: No specific penalties discussed
In an email to members this afternoon, National President Peter Goodfellow addressed the decision of Collins to demote Bridges and strip him of his portfolios last night.
Goodfellow said the board "unanimously supported a first step in seeking further information from the parties involved and ensure the Member of Parliament who was the subject of the allegations was given the opportunity to provide a considered response before any conclusions were drawn".
He added that "no specific penalties or actions were discussed, agreed, or endorsed by the Board at its meeting yesterday, beyond our support for an investigation in line with due process."
"It was not and is not a role of the board to give approval to demote Caucus members or take similar action".
This essentially rejects Collins' claim, made late on Thursday night that she acted "with unanimous support of the board of the National Party" to demote Bridges.
As Collins left Parliament today she said: "It is a really hard job and I have done everything I possibly could," she told reporters as she stepped into a waiting taxi.
Asked it she had made a "principled" move, Collins replied: "Absolutely."
Collins said she was feeling "very good, greatly relieved". Asked if she regretted her actions, she replied: "Never."