Tauranga MP and National leadership contender spoke with Interest.co.nz about what an Opposition he leads would look like and what changes he would make

National Leader Simon Bridges: Illustration by Jacky Carpenter.

By Jason Walls

National Party leadership hopeful Simon Bridges wants to spearhead an evolution in his party.  

The 41-year old Tauranga MP says National needs to begin this evolution now in order to have a shot at winning back the Treasury benches in 2020.

To do this, he plans to freshen up the party’s policy line up and bring new talent onto the Opposition’s front bench. Should he be elected leader in a contest with Amy Adams and Judith Collins.

But the evolution of the National Party he aspires to lead would not be “something radical.”

“We [won] 44.5% of the vote the last election – we were a success on a number of measures so it’s not about wrecking that success, it’s [about] evolving our position.”

Bridges seems to be brimming with new ideas but is reluctant to say what his new plans actually entail – only that he would make them known “reasonably soon after my election.”

The party’s values, however, won’t change if he is in charge.

“The things that people associate us with – a strong economy, law and order, security, private enterprise and individual freedom – will remain our equities.

“But, we will want to evolve that so people take a second look at us in Opposition and say “yeah, they have been doing the hard yards, they have got some interesting ideas that are relevant to us as we move into the 2020s and maximise our vote.”

He may be giving little away publicly about any new policy ideas, but Bridges has been lobbying his Caucus colleagues to get them onside with his plans of a National party evolution.

Those who agree with his vision, and are willing to back his leadership bid, could have a lot to gain.

When announcing his run at the leadership on Wednesday, Bridges was at pains to emphasise he was the candidate of “generational change and experience.”

He wants that combination to extend to his front bench.

“That generational change involves keeping some of the best experience we have got but also bringing in new talent, which will be important.”

He won’t say who he has in mind, only that the party has “so much talent in our Caucus, we need to be sure we keep bringing that through strongly.”

National’s tentative relationship with NZ First

One of the major reasons National was unable to form a Government last year was due to its lack of coalition partners.

Both United Future and the Maori Party were voted out of Parliament and ACT won just one seat.

National’s only hope of winning another three years in power was New Zealand First, which in the end opted to support Labour.

Under a Bridges-led Opposition, National would be looking to win 61 seats with the help of a coalition partner and would be unlikely to attempt getting across the line by itself.

“[Winning] 50% was a wonderful idea but has never happened.”

But National’s list of political allies is very short. So, would Bridges, who won the Tauranga seat in a contest against Winston Peters in 2008, work with NZ First?

That remains to be seen, as he won’t go into much detail, saying only his party needs to hold “the entire Government to account, whether it’s Greens, Labour or NZ First.”

“That doesn’t mean we go after NZ First, but it certainly doesn’t mean that they get an easy go.”

He says National and NZ First will be in an “interesting position” over the next two and a half years as they do align in some areas of policy.

“We’re in a position where we can put bills up and get them through, I would expect [NZ First], for example, to support bills that have strong law and order aspects to them when we do them.”

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"Cro-Magnon man wants to evolve"

Shows inability to strategise. After English leaves National is going to have a hard time in the polls. Labour in their time did too, eg Shearer, Little. Inevitably the leader is blamed & axed. Key mainly came in because he was fresh whereas Clark/Cullen & co were stale, dour & sour too in public perception. Ardern has come in as a fresh change too, even more so. Believe National won’t get their turn again until the same wheel turns to the same position. IE Labour starts to lose it & National has a charismatic leader capable enough to give the electorate reason to vote the existing lot out.

National have 56 seats. 61 could form a Government but would fall if just one prick what's to have ago. They need a substantial partner a la the Green are for Labour. Period.

They screwed up any chance with NZF, because NZF is probably out of Parliament next time. Again. And I see the Greens only getting stronger as they show their wares as Ministers. They have achieved lots already.

Right on the money

National may have to swallow a dead rat and not stand a candidate in a select electorate in return for NZF ( minus WP ) support.

Assuming NZ First and Winstone in particular is still around in 3 years time - they will probably go the way of minority parties and fail to achieve the 5% threshold - so the only way for them is a deal.

Epsom is the new National model - but who knows what will be in place down the track.

No Winstone - no NZF is a possibility. Who would obtain their party votes given they were a National Party spinoff ?

Suspect its way too early to even start to think about the reality ~ 3 years hence. The only certain projection is the macro environment will be unlikely to be what it is today.

Looks like Labour swallows NZF so far,

So early, admittedly, a years is potentially an age.

But given NZF voters are the least in favour of abortion reform, who knows. Maybe they literally just die off. Tracy Martin is no mug. She will inherit the party. Jones is too much of ex Labour and general all round show pony.

On the contrary, NZF will not go down in the next election, even if YOU wish it to be so. They have emerged smarter and more politically agile. They have now harnessed a whole new generation of socially conscious right leaning voters. National are where Labour were, six years ago. Only it’ll take them at least 12 to get it back again.

What's Simon doing with Judith's knife in his hand? Shouldn't it be in his back?

Added bonus that he refers to himself in the third person.

Have a grand daughter who did that too, when she was three. It was cute.

So does a certain POTUS

Bit of a red flag, really.

Will it be a Bridge Too Far for him ?

Well the Allies self destructed on that one basically because they virtualy had only one road for supply and reinforcement, and in itself, totally insufficient. Having spent a somewhat vague time with the Transport portfolio, would this candidate be able to work all that out for himself.

Peters is putty in Jacinda's hands. And probably quite right too. I think he really respects her straight shooting qualities. And she absolutely knows how to get his respect/stroke his ego.

If Bridges thinks he'll woo/drive a wedge between Jacinda and Peters, he's dreaming. All collation partners are already showing they can compromise behind closed doors already. Well so far.

National's big problem is MMP. The Greens have the third party space. Period. ACT have tried and failed already.

Lets see if NZF support the already promised repeal of the three strikes legislation.

A real test for the coalition.

An already done deal...? See secret coalition agreement.

If there is any silver lining to losing an election is that a party can have a re-think on their policies. It wouldn't take a political genius to work out that housing was a big factor in National's lost. I think it got away on them and time they figured that out it was too late. If they can come up with a decent plan and perhaps come to a bi-partisan approach then this could benefit the country a lot.

Labour is doing it for them. First Labour Government had to cut in the first network of back country roads to service the rural communities.

It will take a Labour government to kick it off.

Labour has ideas and hopes - that isn't the same as policy. Let's see if decent policy can be created. I would also say the tax and planning rules need to be addressed.

Actually I totally agree, Labour has bitten off a massive Government wide in scope task in tackling the housing crisis. Buy land, RMA, cut taxes where needed,....? if they get 2nd term it's all on.

Hasn't got the voter appeal needed (unfortunately) today. He would suffer a fate similar to Andrew Little.(minus the intelligence and skill of Little). Even Bill English managed to become "one of us" , with his pizzas, shearing and daddy dances.
But as someone said , the leadership isn't the Nats biggest problem, they need a coalition partner now , the Conserative ones can't keep their pants on . Most likely would be a blue green party , which would also have the benefit of possibly siphoning off some of the Green party vote. I suspect it would more likely grow the Total Green vote.

NZ won't have a blue-Greens, we're different. Greenpeace started in this country.

Bill was never one of us, his try hard PR gimmicks were just that.

Greens would know that any tie up to National would dead end them in the same fashion as The Maori Party. However if the conservation side of the Greens, like the two that resigned pre election, should split from the socialist side, that might raise some possibilities. Take a long time to happen though, one would think.

The Greens don't need to go "blue" to be behind business, green economy.

They've been mainstreaming their ideas for years now. Other parties have been forced to take on their ideas. Not so much the reserve.