Bridges shores up his position
By Richard Harman (author)
Simon Bridges yesterday used his caucus spokesperson reshuffle to shore up his own position while he left his potential rivals unrewarded.
Most notably, National’s highest rating “preferred Prime Minister”, Judith Collins has lost her Infrastructure portfolio though she retains housing.
Undoubtedly Bridges would have liked to trim Collins more but she is too popular with the party base for him to have much room to manoeuvre.
Further down the caucus, Climate Change spokesperson, Todd Muller, was not promoted.
That was despite his high profiler work on developing a bipartisan consensus on climate change with the Minister, James Shaw.
Muller has spoken on this at every one of the party's regional conferences this year, and it appeared that the party more or less regarded him as a frontbencher.
And he is perceived by many, particularly in the rural and provincial wing of the party as a potential future leader.
Bridges has him at Ranking 31 though he has gained the forestry portfolio.
Asked whether he saw Muller as a rival, Bridges said: “What you see there in those early 30s (rankings) is a number of people who have been given new responsibilities and are being tried out with those, whether that is Brett Hudson with police; Stuart Smith with immigration and Todd Muller is there also with climate change and forestry.
“That is a vote of confidence, quite the reverse to what you are suggesting.”
Even so, other party insiders saw it as “petty” and part of a deliberate strategy to confine Muller to the back benches.
Hudson and Smith are both said to have supported Bridges during the period when there was talk of Judith Collins challenging him.
There was some talk within the caucus of running a Collins/Muller ticket against Bridges, but it would seem unlikely that Muller would have been comfortable with that.
The biggest single promotion was Hutt South MP, Chris Bishop who went from 34 in the caucus to 16 and has relinquished his police spokespersonship for Regional Development and Transport.
Bishop and Muller entered Parliament together in 2011 and Bishop’s promotion further underlines the ostracism of Muller.
Other notable changes included a recasting of Todd McClay’s portfolios. He is one of Bridges’ closest allies and is looking more and more like a replacement for Steven Joyce.
As Joyce did, he manages the party’s polling and now has a more balanced set of economic portfolios with Trade, Economic Development and Tourism.
He made it clear he would not be reluctant to lose his foreign affairs portfolio which has gone back to Gerry Brownlee who was disappointed to lose it when Bridges took the leadership.
But the headline move is the appointment of Goldsmith as Finance spokesperson.
His rise has been rapid.
Ranked at 17 in the English Cabinet where he was Tertiary Education and Science and Employment Minister, he is now Number Three, but since the election defeat in 2017, he has surprised many with his effectiveness as an Opposition MP.
He is also close to Bridges, and there has been speculation for some time that he could take the Finance portfolio.
That he was asked to stand in for Amy Adams at one of the party’s recent regional conferences further underlined that.
But he will present a very different economic face to that of Bill English, Steven Joyce and Amy Adams.
He is not a centrist like them but sympathises with the “dry” free market economics of people like Don Brash and Ruth Richardson.
In his maiden speech in 2012, he said that the best thing Government could do was ensure “that we have good physical, technological, and intellectual infrastructure; sound laws that are policed; low inflation; and an educated and willing workforce—and then get out of the way.”
“It feels to me as if we have reached the end of an era," he said.
“ All around the Western World, the big-spending welfare States are being forced to face reality.
“Our way of life is being challenged by too much Government spending, too much debt, and too much drift as we fall behind other more dynamic countries.”
A former professional historian and an amateur classical pianist, Goldsmith, often seems to sit awkwardly within National’s caucus but he has a strong base in the party.
Asked yesterday if he saw National's economic policy moving to the right, he gave an enigmatic answer.
“ We have always been focussed on ensuring that the money that we take; we only take what we need, and we spend the money effectively.
It’s not just about announcing that you are spending lots of money, it is the quality of the delivery that is important.”
He said that National would be focussing on government spending, tax and debt over the next year.
This will not be the end of seating changes in Parliament.
The Prime Minister will announce her Ministerial reshuffle on Thursday.