How Bridges won - but the fight may not be over yet
By Richard Harman (author)
Simon Bridges may have won the National party leadership ballot yesterday, but his challenge now is to unite his caucus and party.
And that will mean finding top jobs for Amy Adams and Judith Collins.
Multiple Caucus sources say his victory over Amy Adams was a narrow one.
That has left her supporters wanting her ranked at number three and appointed Finance spokesperson.
That would also restore the North Island – South Island balance at the top of the Caucus that National traditionally tries to maintain.
But Bridges faces the possible disruptive presence of the self-proclaimed right-wing candidate, Judith Collins, who has a big following among the National Party membership.
Last night there were reports that some of her supporters were contacting MPs letting them know of their displeasures at the way she had been treated by the Caucus where she got few, if any, votes.
Possibly as a consequence of her potential to be a disruptive force she too is being talked of as a potential Finance Minister.
In the end, there were four candidates for the leadership --- Bridges, Adams, Steven Joyce and Collins.
POLITIK understands that Collins was dropped after the first ballot leaving the other three in the race but it would seem none had enough votes to get the 29 vote majority required.
The fifth candidate, Mark Mitchell, had dropped out before the Caucus met.
He advised the other four candidates he would do this on Monday night and yesterday morning.
He appears to have had as many as 12 potential votes.
They were to be critical.
Mitchell told the caucus that he could not spend two weeks talking about unification and walk past a chance to have the caucus unify.
Therefore he released his votes.
The majority of the votes appear to have gone to Bridges and may well prove to be the reason he won.
Adams was second and Joyce third.
If the gap between Bridges and Adams was close, that suggests Joyce probably got less than five votes.
It was a humiliation for the fourth-ranked National MP, former Finance Minister and longtime National Campaign chair.
To add to his defeat, Bridges did not endorse him continuing in the Finance role.
Asked at his media conference what Joyce's role would be, he said: “I can’t say at the moment who is going to be the finance spokesman, but I am confident that Steven will have a strong role should he want that.”
Joyce declined to talk after the caucus and returned to Auckland last night.
Bridges has said he will take two weeks over the reshuffle of the spokespersonships.
It is going to be a delicate job; rewarding his strongest supporters and at the same time making sure he doesn't alienate the Adams supporters.
The big test will be finance.
The odds favour Adams getting the job; she is from the South Island and the leadership team are both Aucklanders although Bridges is the MP for Tauranga.
But there are questions about whether she would really want the role.
She took a purist approach to her candidacy and refused to do any deals and did not stand for the deputy leadership after she lost the leadership.
However, there are no other South Islanders in the mix.
The other two potential candidates are Judith Collins and Jonathan Coleman.
Both are from Auckland which could count against them.
Collins has made it clear she wants Finance, and the argument for her is simple; better to have her in the tent than outside.
“Look, you use Judith, you harness her undoubted skills,” Bridges told POLITIK.
"She's got a great brand; she's a great person.
“I’ve got no doubt she will be put to best purpose by me as Leader.”
What role would he see for her?
“The reshuffle is coming!”
Coleman, on the other hand, was a Bridges supporter and was a critic of the overall economic direction of the previous Government, particularly tax cuts, after he stood for the leadership in 2016 which Bill English won.
Bridges certainly sounded equivocal about the tax cut policy yesterday.
“You don’t cut taxes if you are not doing a strong job in the core social services that New Zealanders expect and deserve; health, education, welfare and the like,” he told POLITIK.
"All of that said, I have this old-fashioned dry view of this, and that is that it is people's money.
“They work hard for that money and when you can give them back what is their’s you should.”
The caucus perceived Bridges’ campaign for the leadership to be one which favoured a substantial overhaul of the front bench.
Thus there were some eyebrows raised when he subtly endorsed Paula Bennett to stay on as deputy leader.
That decision undoubtedly attracted some votes and her skills as a backroom negotiator would also have been useful.
However, Bridges said he offered no jobs to anyone.
“I have offered no one a specific portfolio.
“We need the experience, that’s important because you want to see that we have the heft that we have had in nine years in Government.
“But what is also true is that we can’t go into the next election with the same plans that we have had.
“We can’t say to voters that nothing has changed.
“We also need to continue to modernise, and new talent will absolutely have to be a part of that.”
Bridges’ performance at his media conference, in the House during Question Time and later in media interviews and on TV impressed many in the caucus.
Already he has made it clear his strategy will be to attack the Labour and Coalition Ministers rather than Jacinda Ardern.
"This is a Government with a Prime Minister who I absolutely accept is well-intentioned but when I am asked about her weakness, I think the answer is everything around her.
“I think we have weak Ministers and a weakness that comes through the unique circumstances of the formation of this Government, the parties on either side.
“I believe New Zealanders may look back on this period as a wasted opportunity, and just treading water.
“That’s not enough for National to win in 2020.
“But if we add to that picture with dynamic policy in a range of areas that does excite New Zealanders, we can win.”
But if he doesn't, may well find that Collins will be ready and waiting.