Bridges out, Muller new National leader

Todd Muller, left, is publicly challenging Simon Bridges for the National leadership. Photos: NZ...The vote for National's leadership has been won by Todd Muller, with MPs voting to dump Simon Bridges.

Fifty-five National MPs attended an emergency caucus meeting in Parliament today decide who will lead the party in the run-up to September's election.

Auckland MP Nikki Kaye will be Mr Muller's deputy. 

The ousting of Mr Bridges and his deputy Paula Bennett comes after a second catastrophic poll yesterday.

National was at just 29% in the 1 News Colmar Brunton poll last night. That was half of Labour’s support of 59% in a poll in which the Jacinda Juggernaut steamrollered almost every party in Parliament.

Neither the Green Party (4.7%) nor New Zealand First (3%) would make it into Parliament on the poll results.

Mr Muller gave little away when pressed by reporters this morning ahead of the vote. But he did say he was feeling "very excited".

"It's a momentous day for the National Party and I looking forward to the conversation with my caucus."

Maggie Barry had been the sole MP to publicly reveal backing for Mr Muller while making her way to caucus this morning.

Judith Collins said she was feeling "very chipper" and that she would be backing "whoever wins".

"I'm the person who always understands you always support the leader of the National Party, whoever that will be."

Yesterday, neither the Mr Bridges nor the Muller camps seemed certain they had the 28 votes needed, but both claimed to have strong numbers and one MP involved said it was looking "very, very close".

Last night’s poll result may have changed that for MPs still wavering.

Mr Muller’s camp said the results showed there was an urgent need for a change in leadership to reclaim that lost ground - and even Mr Bridges’ own supporters acknowledged the poll would make it a lot harder for their leader.

The Colmar Brunton poll was taken soon after last week’s Budget and amidst the triple whammy of the Government’s Covid-19 Budget honeymoon, National’s leadership turbulence and massive public endorsement of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Bridges pointed to those factors in his defence, saying the leadership rumble was an added distraction that had contributed, as well as the likely flow-on effect from the earlier poll.

However, Mr Bridges’ ratings as preferred prime minister also halved from 11% to just 5%, while Ms Ardern was at 63% — the highest ratings in the poll’s history.

Mr Muller was at 0.3% as preferred prime minister in the poll, his challenge coming at the tail end of the polling period.

Many MPs were keeping their decisions on the leadership vote to themselves.

Of those that are known, Mr Bridges’ supporters were deputy leader Paula Bennett, Michael Woodhouse, Todd McClay and Paul Goldsmith. MPs Brett Hudson and Sarah Dowie have also publicly backed Mr Bridges.

Mr Bridges is also understood to have Mark Mitchell’s support. Mr Mitchell was considered a potential candidate himself, but has since ruled that out and committed his vote to Mr Bridges.

Mr Muller’s core supporters include Chris Bishop, Amy Adams and Nicola Willis, as well as Ms Kaye. He will also likely benefit strongly from the group of MPs whose seats are in danger from a low poll, such as lower-ranked list MPs and those in marginal electorates.

 

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