With Jami-Lee Ross gone, Chris Trotter wonders why National Party leaks continue against Simon Bridges. He explores what is really going on

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By Chris Trotter*

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Sherlock Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

The Adventure of Silver Blaze – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


What would Sherlock Holmes make of the fact that National’s caucus kept on leaking against Simon Bridges even after Jami-Lee Ross had been thrown out of it?

So much time and effort had been put into tracking down the person responsible for leaking Bridges’ travel expenses – almost as much as that dedicated to disciplining and punishing the alleged culprit. Ross’s response to this latter effort provided what was easily the most spectacular political story of 2018. Having metaphorically poured petrol over himself and struck a match, Ross was, unsurprisingly, hauled off the political stage. End of story? Not at all. The leaks kept coming.

What does that tell us? The obvious response: if Ross was no longer in a position to leak sensitive information from the National caucus, then somebody else must have done it. And, if that is the case, then it is surely arguable that Ross may never have been the leaker. Except, that would mean that he had been set up. That he was the designated patsy in a complex plot to leave Bridges vulnerable to attack by removing Ross from the equation. (Anyone who’s watched The Godfather will instantly recognise the move. Before “hitting” Don Corleone, his enemies were careful to first eliminate his fearsome bodyguard, Luca Brasi.)

The curious incident of the dog that continues to bark raises a great many subsidiary questions concerning Bridges long-term future as National’s leader. Not the least of these is: Whose conspiracy are we witnessing? Cui bono?

The reply that comes most easily is that the person most likely to benefit from Bridges’ difficulties is the woman identified by many as his most likely successor – Judith Collins. That the latest One News/Colmar Brunton poll has her breathing down Bridges’ neck in the preferred prime minister stakes will do nothing to dispel the widely-shared suspicion that Collins is positioning her pieces for a full-scale assault upon the King.

That is certainly the opinion of the veteran political journalist, commentator and media trainer, Bill Ralston. In the latest Listener (5/1/19) he writes:

… Judith Collins strides the corridors of power with a Cheshire Cat grin. My guess is that Ross has been used by a couple of Machiavellian plotters on the Nats’ periphery to pave the way for Collins to oust Bridges and take over the party. National will have to drop several percentage points in the polls before a coup can happen, but I’m picking that Collins has in mind a timeline that could give her the leadership shortly before next Christmas.

Then again, what we have witnessed over the past few months may actually be the preparations for a pre-emptive coup: a blocking move intended to make a Collins takeover impossible. But who could do that? Who possesses the necessary political skills to manoeuvre one poorly performing leader out of his job in order to prevent a colleague determined to shift the National Party sharply to the right from taking his place?

Ask around and a very interesting answer comes back. The plotter is said to be none other than Bridges’ deputy, Paula Bennett. Ridiculous? Well, yes, that is the knee-jerk response of most National watchers. Along Ralston’s “corridors of power”, Bennett is certainly not widely rated as a strategic genius. And yet, if the drama surrounding Ross’s self-immolation showed us anything, it was Bennett’s hitherto unrecognised talent for wielding the knife. In the metaphorical murder of Ross’ political career, it was always pretty clear who was playing  Lady Macbeth.

A strong and stroppy woman – and not one to cross. A colleague of mine likes to tell a story about chatting away to Bennett on an Auckland-to-Wellington flight, during which she observed, tartly, that she was not going down to Parliament to “f..k spiders”.

Perhaps it’s that earthy Westie directness that Bennett hopes to set against the golly-gosh, goody-two-shoes niceness of Prime Minister Ardern? Maybe she’s convinced herself that no one else has the bare-faced, leopard-print chutzpah to tell Baby Neve’s mum to “zip it, sweetie” – and get away with it.

From the broadest strategic perspective, anchoring National firmly in the centre ground certainly makes sense. In the present economic and social circumstances it would be most unwise to swing the party sharply in the direction of the Alt-Right “New Conservative Party” (NCP) which recently gained political prominence as a vociferous opponent of the United Nations Migration Compact. The comments of former Rugby boss, David Moffet, made it clear that the NCP is positioning itself as New Zealand’s answer to the Hard-Right populism currently deforming democratic politics across the globe. His tweet to the Prime Minister and NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, regarding the Compact was unequivocal:

Yes we’ll see whether you 2 traitors are still smiling when we are done with you next year. Have a good break coz you’re going to need it. Next year will likely be your Annus Horibilis because we are coming to get you.

That Bridges sought to lessen the political impact of the NCP’s agitation by essentially echoing its opposition to the Compact (which National had supported when in government) would not have endeared him to the more moderate elements of his caucus. If it’s Bridges’ intention simply to act as some sort of Far-Right John the Baptist to Judith Collin’s Messiah, then, from the moderates’ perspective, the sooner he’s politically beheaded the better.

Whichever National MP our barking dog belongs to, it would be unwise to anticipate it falling silent anytime soon.


*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. His work may be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com. He writes a fortnightly column for interest.co.nz.

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34 Comments

“When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own.”Headcount on the honest ones please.Less than one hand will suffice, one would think.

The question I have is would you trust someone who is secretly attacking their party leader to be the next party leader ( or part of the party leadership)......

Just a tad duplicitous....

Duplicitous, yes, but it's pretty much how the Nats work.

Good read from Chris Trotter. The problem with his argument is that folk are beginning to wake up to just how good Simon Bridges is. And it's a natural thimg that new opposition leaders rate low in preferred PM polls. National MPs will only get antsy if the party rating drops. And it hasn't.

And the plot is built on the premise that leaks are still occurring in the National caucus - but what leaks are these? I haven't seen anything of significance reported.

@Kate, Keep up with the play. "But the internal poll figures have checked out and so too have other claims made - which could only have come from a caucus member.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12171953

Thanks! Missed it :-).

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13

Waking up to how good Bridges is? Really?

He is cute when he puts on his Grumpy Cat face. Not sure what else he's got going for him.

has lots going for him. Almost everything except his party's legacy and its policies.

Re Simon: I changed my view. I had met him twice and he irritated me for some reason. Then Jamie Lee Ross decided to be as destructive as any MP could be. If there was any way to screw up the scene the silly prick used it.
Bridges was given every opportunity to screw up. He did the opposite. Strong, fair, careful, but sorted it properly when every effort was made to detail it. An amazing deft performance.
OK. He is still a bit irritating - but his competence in that situation overides that.

Bridges has not come out of that smelling of roses. He remains there at the moment as it is convenient for the party to have him there, they can afford it with polling results, thus emboldening the guy. What he doesn't get is that he is most likely there are a human shield for those who will take over closer to an election.

See, this is an example of ignoring reality and trying re-write history that the right-wing constantly engage in.

Bridges did everything wrong and every time it blew up in his face he just dug deeper.

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12

Is that you Simon?

I’m always surprised just how poorly Simon plays with people. I work with quite a few national supporters and national aligned people and they can not stand him. Every word that comes of his mouth hits a bung note and sounds dishonest. Of course that is because most of what he says is fake.

Simon’s biggest weakness is that he sees himself as much better than he is. He has no awareness of his limitations and as such he is constantly overextending.

Unfortunately Simon needs to go. There is no way national can win the next election with him at the helm. He needs to recognise his limitations, he is not the man for the top job.

Whoever took over from English was doomed, but someone had to. There have been others. Marshall, McLay. And on the other side, Goff and Moore and Rowling, sort of. Bridges was and is the patsy. Too ambitious, too naive, too impatient to bide his time, like those who are now entering into the shuffle. In some ways it has been best for National to have him sidelined before the next election, Like Little, if you like. But anyway, National ain’t going to win an election without either a viable coalition partner or a spectacular self destruction from the current coalition.

They could wait until just a few weeks before the next election and then he could step aside and let a young pretty face take his place. It has worked before. May have to merge with the Greens to find the younger pretty face.

A sharp economic down turn with higher interest rates, inflation and unemployment may do the trick.

Just remember Bill C - It's the economy stupid !

These guys have yet to face a major test - No GFC, CHCH 1, CHCH 2, Rena, Kaikoura

It seems you can't go 6 years without some black swan from left field hitting the proverbial.

So you think S Bridges is a genius
You’ll be disappointed
He would make a nice Trump poodle like Cory L here
Trotter reminds me of -
Trotsky always good for a line ;
The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end. ( Auckland town planning ?
You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you. ( Rejected by the Key government )
Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that can happen to a man. ( Unless eaten by sharks )

Not at all sure that CT is not just making sh*t up, trying to stay relevant in an age where most of the movers and shakers are a small fraction of his age. Happens to us all, but we don't write columns about it....

Pigs Trotter(s) is resurrecting himself as a centrist leftie it seems. That's where all lefties who half a brain or more, end up, in the centre. Which is, funnily enough, where the next election will be won & lost. CoL will Collapse. Nothing surer. They don't have the where-with-all internally to get this right (yes left I know). Clarke had depth. She was of a generation of trendy lefties which were a very compelling lot in full flight, & somewhat frightening at times. Jacinda doesn't have that luxury. Especially so when Winston makes his move - as he will. You & I both know he's too old, but that ego he has is something else. He'll be wanting one more crack.

Long Jonny
Chrissy T is always happy to burst his opinions onto humanity
No lack of conversation ever

Jami-Lee Ross is still a wildcard. Given Bennett's public role in his downfall with her allegations about his extramarital affairs, I imagine she is in his sights as well as Bridges. There's a good chance he knows compromising stuff about Bennett too. My bet is that JLR won't be finished until both Bennett and Bridges go.

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11

Jamie Lee has to hang in until March I think to get his 9 year pension time and a gravy train for life.

He won't be rocking the boat having now realised as an independent he's dog tucker. His many Chinese constituents won't throw money at someone who wouldn't be in power. They are not stupid !

May find employment in the real world a little difficult.

Judith Collins has plenty of nous. That's a given.

But she's also has the same political flaw as Winston. Lots of talent and charism but a self-destruct bottom. Peter's has been good a deputy PM a number of times.

Not sure what it is really.... But Collins and Peters both have an propensity to implosions of judgement. If Collins becomes leader of the opposition she'll made some major gaff or scandal and kill her chance.

Some talented MPs just aren't destind to be PMs

A self destruct bottom? Is that a plus or a minus?

Dear NZ
Judith Collins character flaws resulted in her demotion
Character does not change
You’ll be disappointed

Simon Bridges is a clone politician
A third rate copy of JK
Minus the fetish

Simon Bridges is just a wannabe John Key. Tries to talk like him and mimics his mannerisms.

Yep , He uses the same tired old phrases, often verbatim.
but imo Bridges will require better acting skills if has any hope of emulating Key's faked authenticity.

Ok, so, if and when there is a coup, who are the real contenders, Bennett, Collins and Adams? I don't see any others, but then I am not in their world. Which of them can work together well? Any pair could make a good tag team, just like Clarke and Cullen, or Key and English. Ardern and Peters seem to making a good go of it so far too, but then, nothing of significance has gone wrong yet.

Agreed no major issues but a number in train - Labours sex camp scandal to emerge when the trial commences and the offender identified, Sroubek/Sleeze Gallopaway has more to run, Kiwifail will expose Twyford as another prime idiot joining Porno Jones and his slush fund to buy him a Northland seat, the Greens descending below 5% may cause ructions with Winston who sees his parties oblivion as its rating continues to decline and a reason to preserve some meaningful legacy by grandstanding a coalition breakup and an early election. 2019 may prove to be the coalition of losers & liars anus horriblis

I was thinking no financial crisis or major earthquakes, but then Labour may be less competent at hiding their dodgy personal lives than National, I wouldn't know.

What do the members of the Chardonnay socialist set (or is it Pinot Gris these days) do if their houses keep going down in value? They will want to blame someone big time.

When house prices are going up then house owners feel competent and in charge of their world, as they take personal credit for their good fortune. They believe they deserve their good fortune, on the basis that they are very clever and so forth.

When house prices go down they get angry. Their world view is threatened. It can't be their fault, so whose fault is it?

It isn't clear to me how they will react. They can't blame Labour or the Greens as that would betray their core beliefs that everything that isn't right must be someone else's fault. At first they will blame National of course, but surely even they will admit that National can't be the whole cause.

Arden & Peters have mutual respect for each other I am informed by people who know
This is a good government
If you want to see a poor government look at Australia
Land of the ever changing Prime Ministers & extreme debt bubble

It's the Nats. Leaking Don Brash's personal emails did wonders for both John Key and Bill English, and Judith Collins benefited greatly by blackmailing Key and English with the threat of leaking the fact the police know they leaked Brash's personal email. Leaking works for the National party.