National burning its bridges

Simon Bridges
Simon Bridges
National Party leader Simon Bridges was the main focal point for delegates and media attending the party's annual conference in Auckland during the weekend.

National has a habit of pulling out all the stops when it comes to stage-managing a conference to get maximum exposure for an increasingly cynical voting population. It also has a knack of bringing back to the main stage former political leaders who party officials hope will resonate with delegates. Such was the case at the Auckland conference.

Gone are the days of delegates being able to get up and talk about their particular gripes with the party or society. Political parties tend to manage these events to within a millimetre of their lives for fear of attracting bad media. Dissension is to be actively discouraged.

Mr Bridges fell right into that trap, calling former Australian prime minister John Howard, a guest at the conference, his idol, then claiming he did not remember the details of Mr Howard's time in office. Former New Zealand prime minister Sir John Key was also in attendance, helping boost the fortunes of Mr Bridges who is struggling to make waves in political opinion polls. National continues to rule the polls but is still without friends.

The party attacked Acting Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters in a shocking display of tactless popularism. Mr Peters walked away from National during coalition talks to go with Labour, giving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern the numbers for a government.

Mr Howard called the New Zealand election result unfair, without truly understanding how MMP works.

After nine years in government, National is struggling to come to grips with being in opposition. There is evidence in Parliament's debating chamber of National MPs getting the better of Government ministers when it comes to policy debate. The Government continues to flounder with all its inquiries and reports.

However, whoever came up with the idea National should relaunch a policy on increasing the number of primary teachers to reduce class sizes and give children more teacher time needs to be shunted aside.

With major media outlets concentrating on his every move, Mr Bridges needed to deliver a speech to a wider audience than the one packed into the conference venue with its blue balloons and blue and white rosettes.

Making it worse for Mr Bridges, Ms Ardern decided to upstage both him and the National Party by giving a baby update shortly after his speech. The baby message was incredibly clever timing and shows Ms Ardern is not just sitting at home on maternity leave. She is thinking as a political leader should, something Mr Bridge could consider trying. Her imminent return to Parliament will dominate public interest as it comes closer.

Taking the time to read the full speech from Mr Bridges gives insights into why he might have decided education may run with the delegates. Outside of the conference, National is being held responsible for the lack of people wanting to become teachers in some areas.

Mr Bridges carried out a tour of New Zealand to large audiences of mainly National Party supporters. Privately, he speaks candidly and enthusiastically about what he wants to change about both the party and New Zealand. This does not translate to outside audiences.

In truth, the top three women MPs - Paula Bennett, Judith Collins and Amy Adams - are likely to have more sway than Mr Bridges.

Mr Bridges needs to start blooming as a leader or he will face a challenge early next year. National has no friends in Parliament except the one-person Act New Zealand party.

The party cannot or will not build accords to secure its place as a government in waiting.

By Christmas, Mr Bridges may be the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time and facing a leadership challenge. National MPs are unforgiving of leaders languishing in polls.



John Howard was a barrister, Christian, father of 3 and a successful leader. I can see why Simon Bridges would see parallels and look up to John Howard. John Howard was often mocked for having a speech impediment and it seems Simon Bridges has been mocked by the Left for the way he speaks.