National Party leader Simon Bridges has led more than 70 town-hall style meetings since May in a bid to let people know ‘what kind of bloke’ he is

National Party leader Simon Bridges has led more than 70 town-hall style meetings since May in a bid to let people know ‘what kind of bloke’ he is
National Leader Simon Bridges: Illustration by Jacky Carpenter.

It is fair to say Simon Bridges, National Party Leader, is a bit tired.

Since May, he has led more than 70 meetings in 50 towns and cities, reaching an estimated 10,000 people across New Zealand.

The tour has been part of National’s charm offensive to let the country know who Bridges is and what his party’s plans are for the country if it wins the next election.

On Saturday, his tour of New Zealand came to an end. His last stop, his Tauranga electorate.

When speaking to Interest.co.nz, Bridges had just finished a public meeting in Auckland's Te Atatu, the area where he grew up.

Finishing his tour with these two locations has a personal touch for Bridges.

“We have literally done a poetic something or rather to it,” the usually quite articulate Oxford-educated former Crown Prosecutor says, clearly a bit fatigued by the process.

“The reality is it’s been a big job – a lot of meetings over a lot of days... it takes a lot of stamina.”

From the depths of the South Island’s Invercargill to Kerikeri in the far north, Bridges has spent an enormous amount of time travelling the country in the last two months.

There were a number of reasons he decided the tour was worth it. Gauging the mood of the nation, meeting National supporters, listening to peoples' concerns.

But one reason really sticks out.

“Then there is another part of it, which is ultimately just kind of personal to me – it was a bit of a job audition.”

Bridges has been National's leader since March following Bill English’s resignation.

But so far, he has struggled to resonate with many voters.

In the most recent Reid Research poll, he was at 9% on the preferred Prime Minister ratings – well below Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s 40%.

But he is not concerned with those numbers – New Zealand has a Parliamentary democratic system not Presidential, meaning all that matters is the party vote.

On that measure, with 45% support National is the most popular party in Parliament – polling 2.5% higher than Labour.

Getting to know this Bridges bloke

Bridges wanted to let “a bunch of people from all sorts of walks of life get a sense of what kind of bloke I am.”

And getting out and about on the tour was the right way to do it, he says.

“I could sit in my office in Parliament or my electorate office, but I wouldn’t necessarily be learning a lot from that.”

The tour has “sharpened [him] up,” he says

“Being out and about has forced me to clarify what I’m thinking in a bunch of areas.”

And which areas are those?

One is the way his party does politics – “much of what we do in Wellington doesn’t matter a toss.”

So much time is spent on seemingly insignificant bits of “stupid political stuff,” such as what NZ First Leader Winston Peters has said that day, Bridges says.

“That does not cut through – that’s not what matters in New Zealand outside the beltway.”

People are talking about the economy, welfare and law and order, he says.

“People are definitely compassionate, they want to see rehabilitation and efforts to keep people out of jail.

“But they also want to see the bad bastards put inside and a deterrent effect so that other people don’t do those serious crimes.”

The NZ First effect

Traditionally, National has been the dominant party in New Zealand’s regions and has performed well in many of the areas Bridges’ tour has stopped at.

But recently, New Zealand First has been eyeing the provinces too.

Armed with a $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund war chest, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has also been up and down the country, spending millions of dollars in the regions.

Bridges says the tour had nothing to do with combating NZ First’s attempts to claim the regions.

In fact, he says he has talked to many NZ First voters who have expressed their disappointment in the party.

“There is a fair degree of cynicism and disillusionment within NZ First. [It’s voters] feel let down as it hasn’t done what it said they would do.”

He points to NZ First plans to cut immigration as the main example.

But he does not shy away from the fact New Zealand’s regions will be key to National winning back the Treasury benches in 2020.

“I think you would have to say it was true prior to the election, also true today that in rural and provincial New Zealand, we still have very strong support.

“But we need to keep earning that every day.”

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“the usually quite articulate.” Don’t think so. Acknowledge though the qualifications at Oxford and at law and undoubtedly those cannot belong to anyone lacking intellect. On the face of it those and the street level experience of being a Crown Prosecutor should present a personality and acumen that is fairly formidable, but so far this does not appear to be so. Not entirely the same academic and legal background to be sure, but this leader is certainly no David Lange if you want to talk about being articulate.

"... he was at 9% on the preferred Prime Minister ratings – well below Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s 40%. But he is not concerned with those numbers...what matters is the Party vote". So Labour would have got in if Andrew was still at the helm? I doubt it! Of course 'who is going to be the PM" matters, Simon! Why did TOP fail? Because they had Gareth and not "Jacinda" as their poster child. National held on as long as they did because of John Key, and Bill couldn't drag the following with him. Simon Bridges ranks a long way behind Bill in my book, and until he realises that and hands over to ( now there's the question?!) then Jacinda et al have a long time to govern....

TOP had several issues. But they could have made it in eventually if they had stuck at it. Most of their policies wouldn't have been implemented by either labour or national. They need to pick some key ones that could fly and focus on those.

They would have made it if Gareth had Jacinda's smile, sad but true

WP brought Labour into power, not Jacinda. He is the rightful poster child of the CoL.
A "not-so-popular" Bill English mustered up enough seats for the Nat's to make them the largest party for a fourth term and 10 seats more than what your poster child could get.
Funny enough, National had more seats in opposition back in 2005 than Labour currently has in power.

Yes, and and even more "funny enough" they are in opposition. That will teach them for trying to shaft the poor superannuitant WP directly before the election. CoL, CoL, Lol.

Give them a couple of years more, they are perfectly on track of what was expected of them - running the economy into the ground. Once the employment act kicks in, businesses and high skilled workers will abandon ship, while the public servant pay hikes and lower taxes from a slowing economy will leave no money for economic reparation or a fiscal stimulus.

Which is why the CoL and their media flunkies have started a campaign to soften us all up for a massive splurge of borrowing. Ponies for everyone! (your kids will pay for it)

Err...yes...Ardern's big turnaround from Andrew Little's languishing had nothing to do with it.

Disingenuous in the extreme, this.

Under MMP, Bill lost the election. What's done is done. Move on. How is it folk can understand that the auction process includes passing in and negotiation that follows, but struggle with MMP.

And in NZ's past, we had far less representative minority governments under FPP.

I'm not really sure handing a disproportionate amount of power and influence to the "King Maker" party of NZF show better representation of the population. To be fair every style of democracy has its issues and but ours seems particularly in this respect.

Fact is, either coalition choice would have been much more representative given they would represent a majority of the voters. Much more than under FPP when governments routinely represented well under half the voters.

Add the fact that surveying suggested 65% of NZ First voters preferred a coalition with Labour, and that makes it that much more so.

Survey of who? I can't get anyone I know to admit they even voted for the man some call political pus. The COL is in power and needs to just get on with whatever mess they are intent on creating and their supporters need to own the outcome.

You imply that votes for the opposing party are not a form of representation, but they are.

Many seem to miss this point of proportional representation. We do not elect dictators. The votes for opposition parties which make it in, do provide legitimate opposition, in proportion to the population voting for those views. This is especially true for member ballots when towing the caucus line is done away with.

How do I imply that?

They definitely are. I just pointed out that either government that would have been formed would have been representative of over 50% of the voters, thus this one is.

Yes, National's voters are represented by their MPs in opposition too.

TOP got more votes than David Seymour and ACT combined.

They should be in parliament but are not, due to the rort National and ACT pulled in Epsom, to exploit coat-tail-dragging rule.

my question why is the national party so high with SB still in charge.
my answer if you dont like the mob in now what choice do you have.
we still have a 2 party system running under the guise of MMP,

I also think National's support is suspiciously high. Possibly the result of PR budgets that could fund trips to the moon, and less indicative of conscious support. No NZ political party can contend with the foreign investment in National's PR budget -- and the little we know of that has come from leaks.

If we are stuck with two parties it's more to do with the lack of media airtime given to small parties leading to that situation. Also the 5% threshold and coat-tail dragging rule need fixing, but I suspect strong opposition would be found from ACT and National to repealing the coat-tail-dragging provision.

Was it worth it you ask ? Yes it was. It doesn't matter which party it is, but any leader has to get out and be seen and to listen. A most interesting awakening for Simon. "What we do in Wellington does not matter a toss" Glad he heard it.

Quite amusing actually as Winston Peters did a huge road trip during the months before the Election. Difference was the he was not there to "Gauging the mood of the nation, meeting National supporters, listening to peoples' concerns." The problem Simon is that all National meetings were I live are only notified to National members against Winston Peters who had open public meetings. There is no point in talking to your own members concerns in isolation. Post "dirty politics" that had Winston drop from 14% just out from the Election to 7% perhaps you should be giving your members a message - back off the nasty comments.

I heard of Simons National Tour but nothing locally in media or personally so perhaps ChCh doesn,t matter too much!!

Guyon E on morning report has Simon's number this morning on "green blue" smoke and mirrors. That's quickly doing nothing for National. They need to move with the times. The country is serious about "the environment" now.

Should be filed under "opinion" rather than news.

The teaser headline on the home interest page is a clear opinions shaping blurb, not at all related to an objective news report.

Bridges is toast as a leader who can do the job at an election.

Charisma can't be "worked on". He's dreaming. Gone by lunchtime sorry.

He's making the exact same failing as his predecessors, you can put forward the most charismatic and personable person ever, but it's not going to wash with people who actually read policy and vote accordingly.

To me, National need to undergo a shift in policy too radical for them to tolerate, to be appealing to millenials and women (the demographics they are failing to engage with).

No one is being fooled by the obsessive growth agenda any more, and the constant failure to address the issues which led to their demise is not helping either. Eg the overt and idiotic denial of housing and social issues that synthesised under their command.

When I read the headline I thought I'd accidentally gone to thecivilian.co.nz.

I have to agree with you!

I had a good laugh at the last paragraph of the "About Us" on that website:

Most newspapers in our country focus on the delivery of what they call “news and information.” But here at the Civilian, we’re different. We work hard to provide you with as little information as possible, so that we can focus solely upon the news.

From the above opinion article One is the way his party does politics – “much of what we do in Wellington doesn’t matter a toss.”
What a wonderful mis-attribution. I'm pretty sure that the "we" in the quote refers to all of the parties actions in Wellington, not just one. It takes a rather stilted viewpoint to conclude that the reference was to his party instead of the more general beehive happenings, as evidenced by the related comment about Winston Peters. It is clear that some of the interest.co.nz writers need to learn a bit more about what journalism is, which is not to interject opinion or bias into news articles.

When is he going to say anything about how National got captured by the Chinese lobby? And how is it possible to be in govt if their Chinese spy school lecturer is in their cabinet?

I think he drew the short straw , to be fair.

Labour-supplied whispers and rumours to media, such a high standard of proof. Let's see a reputable polling company put their name on them and publish them if they are real. In meantime most recent poll I can find (may colmar brunton)

National 44.0% (+1%)
Labour 43.0% (-5%)
Green 6.0% (+1%)
NZ First 5.0% (+2.4%)
Maori 1.2% (+0.5%)
ACT 0.3% (-0.2%)
Opportunities 0.4% (-0.2%)

Simon Bridges 10.0% (+9%)
Jacinda Ardern 37% (-4%)
Winston Peters 5% (+1%)

Would love to see something more up to date.

Thanks for the poll Foyle

I think SB's touring of the country to meet "real" people is very good, especially if he did it to learn something rather then for political point scoring.

Bridges is as engaging as a dead jellyfish, where is the DeJeux effect now?