How ambition brought down Jami Lee Ross
By Richard Harman (author)
A failed near megalomaniac grab for power appears to be the real reason that Jami Lee Ross fell out with National Leader Simon Bridges.
POLITIK has learned that Ross sought big rewards for his support for Bridges during the National Party leadership contest in February.
He was Bridges' numbers man, and along with Todd McClay, he was part of Bridges' inner circle during the campaign for leadership.
So when Bridges won, he moved to claim his reward.
But what he wanted was so big that there was no way the new leader could satisfy him.
POLITIK has learned from multiple party and caucus sources that Ross wanted to be Shadow Leader of the House; Chief Whip and to sit on the front bench.
Along with those posts he also also wanted to be on the party board and to be in charge of party polling.
In effect, he would have been a quasi-deputy leader with as much power as the leader himself.
Bridges said no and thus appears to have provoked Ross’s campaign against him.
To try and explain his behaviour, the sources spoken to by POLITIK had pointed to what happened in the Howick local board elections in 2016, when his wife, Lucy Schwaner lost a bid to become chair of the board.
Within half of an hour of the vote, she had resigned from the board, and Ross went public in a local newspaper with harsh criticism of the board chair who beat her.
But his criticism of Bridges yesterday went well beyond anything we have seen in New Zealand politics in recent years.
In four Tweets yesterday Ross alleged that:
- Bridges poll ratings showed he was becoming more and more unlikable in the public’s eyes.
- Ross had a recording of Bridges discussing with him unlawful activity that he was involved in.
- Bridges he asked him to do things with election donations that broke the law.
- Bridges’ move to put Ross on medical leave was an attempt to stop him speaking publicly.
Reaction from some caucus members has been highly critical.
Papakura MP Judith Collins said his tweets were “appalling” and has been at pains in recent weeks to make it clear that media reports that she was a friend of Ross were wrong.
And a tweet from North Shore MP, Maggie Barry, hinted at some of the darker stories that have been circulating from within National about Ross, particularly about his alleged bullying of new MPs and what some have described as a propensity for manipulative behaviour.
“What a disloyal disgrace this flawed & isolated individual has become,” Barry wrote.
“Having now read the PWC report I personally believe the unpleasant & bullying pattern of behaviour of Jami Lee Ross has no place in an otherwise united National Caucus under our leader Simon Bridges.”
In his statement yesterday, Bridges made it clear that Ross’s future as a member of the National caucus will be debated at its regular meeting today.
“The Caucus will be asked to consider all relevant matters, including his membership of the Caucus," he said.
That is shorthand for a motion to suspend him from the caucus.
A senior MP late last night who had been talking to colleagues said he was convinced that the vote on such a motion would be unanimous.
Caucus does not have the power to expel Ross. That resides with the party board though a senior party official said if the caucus asked for expulsion the board would be obliged to implement it.
In 1992 when the caucus suspended Winston Peters, it was careful to ensure its resolution did not expel him.
That resolution read: “That this caucus withdraws the whip from Winston Peters and excludes him from caucus meetings and activities as he has lost the trust and confidence of caucus members and cannot be relied upon to act as a responsible member of the caucus, but that this action in no way purports to affect Winston Peters’ membership of the New Zealand National Party.”
However shortly after he was suspended, the party executive did begin the complex legal process to expel him.
Even if Ross is not eventually expelled he will require party approval to seek selection again; a move that party officials say is unlikely to happen.
It has been suggested that National might want to use the Electoral Integrity Act (the waka jumping bill) to force Ross out of Parliament, but that requires them to convince the Speaker that Ross would be planning to vote differently from the National Party; in other words to vote with the Government.
That is unlikely.
The question National MPs were asking last night was whether Ross would now mount an ongoing campaign against Bridges.
Some thought it likely.
They also pointed to his historic friendship with the right wing blogger “Whaleoil” (Cameron Slater) who has in the past described himself as a friend of Ross.
(Slater phoned POLITIK only two weeks ago to say he had had lunch with Ross that day and relayed criticism from him of coverage here of his plight.)
The worry is that the Ross’s promise to speak publicly in coming days on the matters in his tweets suggest a campaign against Bridges which Whaleoil would undoubtedly be happy to host.
There would appear to be no way back for Ross; his political career would seem effectively over.