Messy start but Muller still has opportunity to make a mark

Todd Muller’s first week as leader of the National Party was messy and in some ways mucked up, but he still has an opportunity to make a mark as leader of the Opposition, and maybe rescue his party from a downward slide, and just maybe give Labour some real competition in this year’s election.

Some of the maelstrom faced by Muller was due to media getting bored with Covid coverage (“breaking news” of no more cases wears a bit thin day after day) and looking for some controversy and drama. They managed to manufacture some, and Muller and his team made that easy.

But most of it was a lot of noise about bugger all. No journalist is expected or required to be at their best in their first week on the job, it takes a while for them to make drama out of dregs.

Of course some on the left revelled in the ruckus making, that’s they way politics works (unfortunately) – it’s a game of dumping on opponents.

Some of the criticism of Muller came from the right as well, but Mike Hosking and the guy Richardson dissing Muller was hardly a damning indictment.

And Damien Grant, barely a middling journalist promoted several rungs above his level of competence thinks that Todd Muller confirms himself as a middle manager promoted several rungs above his level of competence.

The debacle over the MAGA cap, the lack of diversity in the front bench and Muller’s failure to articulate not just an economic agenda but even an idea confirmed what many of his detractors, this columnist included, had already concluded; he was a middle manager promoted several rungs above his level of competence.

The MAGA cap was largely over hyped crap, I’m surprised Grant seems to think that the front bench should represent everyone who doesn’t vote for National (I suspect he would grizzle about anything seen as ‘token’ appointments), and expecting to Muller have a comprehensive economic agenda ready to publish and promote on day one is just plain nuts.

We have a major problem with lazy journalists wanting instant stories.

Demands for an instant miracle from journalists would be better directed at their own industry, which is in much worse condition than Muller’s leadership and National’s current poll dip.

There is time for Muller to find his feet as leader, work out with his caucus and party their key policy priorities to promote in time for the election campaign.

Not much time, but there is time. Muller may still turn out to be a failed muppet, but he should at least be given a chance to prove himself.

Andrea Vance has a much better look at the current situation in Could middle-of-the road Muller come out a winner?

By the end of last week, Todd Muller was looking like one of the losers.

The Wellington commentariat had largely decided his first week as National leader was uniformly awful.

These conversations reverberated around the square mile of Pipitea, and Muller was found wanting.

It is perplexing why Team Muller had such a clumsy start, after plotting for months, and assembling a artful team of insiders that includes PR practitioner Matthew Hooton and dark-arts kingmakers Crosby Textor.

But the subjective judgements of a handful of Beehive pundits on perceived performance flaws, are now more insignificant than ever.

An economic shock has ricocheted around the world. Voters are consumed with worry about their jobs, mortgages and how to pay their bills.

In a political environment where most people would struggle to name the Cabinet, it’s hard to see people getting too exercised about the make-up of the Opposition’s front bench, or which keepsakes a leader displays on his shelf.

Most people would struggle to name the first five ranked Cabinet Ministers (I can’t), or even the first three (I could only guess at number 3 but at least I will know a little of them when I find out).

There was no discernible Muller vision. No priorities for his first few months in office. And no bold, alternative ideas for the post-coronavirus economic recovery.

And there is no reason why Muller should have had this level of detail ready to spoon feed journalists from day one. That’s a ridiculous expectation.

What actually is Jacinda Ardern’s vision?

What are her priorities for the next few months, apart from keeping us in level 2 and winning the election?

What are her bold, alternative ideas for the post-coronavirus economic recovery? If journalists should be looking anywhere for these right now it should be from Ardern and her Government.

While trust in Ardern is high, Labour still strive for economic credibility, after a decade of doubt over their fiscal capability.

So why expect, demand this of Muller in his first week in the Opposition leader’s office?

In the face of soaring unemployment and plummeting house prices, middle voters may pause for thought. People who care passionately about inequality, over-tourism and climate change in the good times, tend to be less progressive when their personal economic circumstances are shaken.

If National can play on that doubt: and convince centre voters they must make a choice between which priority they value the most, then middle-of-the road Muller may just come out a winner.

Unfortunately a lot may depend on how much slack they keep giving the Government because of their admiration of Ardern. And how much nit picking of Muller they over-dramatise.

But that’s the nature of our politics and our media.  Like it or not Muller and National have to find a way of dealing with that semi-successfully.

Muller announces National Party policy for business employment

After a difficult first week as National party leader Todd Muller has announced a policy targeting businesses recovering from the Covid-19 economic crisis.

It can only happen later in the year if National win back power in the election in September and get coalition party support for the policy, and the economic situation may have changed drastically by then anyway, but Muller needed to do something to appease media demanding he do something immediately.

National backs businesses with $10k JobStart

National will provide a $10,000 cash payment to businesses that hire additional staff as part of our commitment to keeping New Zealanders in jobs, National Party Leader Todd Muller and Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith have announced.

Our JobStart scheme would begin on 1 November 2020 and run for the remaining five months of the financial year through to 31 March 2021, incentivising up to 50,000 new jobs.

“Today National has announced another part of our plan to create jobs and grow the economy,” Mr Muller says.

“We are committed to supporting New Zealand businesses, in particular small businesses, to invest and grow. JobStart will give small business owners greater confidence to hire new people.

“Small business owners who create jobs will be the heroes of this economic crisis, in the way that our nurses, doctors and all five million of us who stayed home were the heroes of the health crisis.”

Mr Goldsmith says thousands of small businesses across New Zealand were starved of revenue during the lockdown and many are still struggling under level two restrictions.

“They are desperate for cash flow and this payment could alleviate some of the pressure they’re facing while also supporting growth.

“The scheme will be capped at 10 new employees, or $100,000 per business. Businesses will need to prove that the new hire is an additional full time equivalent over and above their existing labour force.

“The Government said its Budget was all about jobs but there was no plan to back this up. Only National has a plan to revive the economy and keep Kiwis in jobs.”

From the factsheet

The $10k JobStart is for all New Zealand businesses but it is focussed on small businesses. It will be capped at 10 new employees, or $100,000 per business. The scheme is capped at $500 million – or 50,000 new jobs.

How many new jobs are expected to be created over the five month eligibility period?

The number of new jobs created in any given period depends largely on the stage of the economic cycle.

Especially the stage of the economic cycle in a recession or depression, as the country and world may be in by later in the year.

Naturally in politics this policy has been criticised, and defended. Like:

Thee $10,000 approximately covers employment for three months on the minimum wage.

It would encourage some businesses to employ or to re-employ, but it is debatable.

If National get back into power in late September or October they will have a huge job to do dealing with ongoing Covid-19 (or the aftermath), and it is likely the economy will be in a dire situation, as will many businesses that have survived that long.

So what needs to be done then is difficult to predict now.

But Muller needed to get a policy out to show that something positive is being done under his leadership.


National criticised over Maori representation

Should every party in Parliament rank their caucus with balanced representation of every major New Zealand demographic?

The new National Party lineup announced by leader Todd Muller yesterday has been criticised for ‘a lack of diversity on their front bench’, and in particular forr not having enough Maori MPs prominent on their rankings.

Maori tend to not vote for National in big numbers, so why should National arrange their ranking to appear to represent Maori proportionally?

Should National also balance their lineup with union representatives, teachers, climate change activists, social activists and racing and fishing representatives?

Tariana Turia is complaining about the lack of Maori in National’s front bench – but her Maori Party was notable for it’s lack of diversity, they only had Maori representatives. As was their choice.

Should Labour have farmers and ex corporates and religious advocates in their front bench?

Should NZ First have a balance of young MPs?

Should Greens have business representation in their caucus and their list?

Or should each party represent who they wish, and rank their MPs how they wish?

Maori already have a special guarantee of representation in Parliament through the Maori seats. National have never been given a Maori seat by Maori voters, so why should National go out of their way to represent them?

Muller had to put forward his new lineup in a hurry, and National are in opposition, not in Government. John Key’s Government represented Maori through some of their own MPs and in particular by including the Maori Party, who were voted for by Maori.

Every party shouldn’t have to be representative of everyone, they should represent who vote for them.

Labour hasn’t had a particularly good record of representing Maori interests despite holding most Maori seats most of the time (currently all Maori seats).

It would be democratic nonsense for all parties to be diverse enough to satisfy every interest group in the country. The Greens who promote themselves as diverse are making little attempt at gender balance these days, but that’s their choice.

Voters are supposed to decide what they think of the diversity or lack of diversity of each party lineup.


Muller’s reshuffle of the National caucus

New National leader Todd Muller has announced his reshuffled line-up of caucus rankings and responsibilities.

Todd Muller announces shape of next Government

National Party Leader Todd Muller has announced the line-up of the next Government.

“New Zealand is facing perhaps the toughest time that almost anyone alive can remember.

“We are borrowing tens of billions of dollars to get us through this crisis. There is only one team that can spend it competently and well, and that is my National Party team.”

Mr Muller said he was particularly pleased senior MP Amy Adams had agreed to be the Minister for Covid-19 Recovery in his Government.

“Amy is tough and tested and will play a key role in getting you, your family and your community through this.”

Notable is that positions two to four are women, his deputy Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams who has changed her mind about quitting politics this year, and the formidable Judith Collins who has challenged for the leadership herself in the past.

So now three of the top four National MPs are women, four of the top eight, and seven of the top sixteen, female MPs have become a significant part of the National caucus.

However with Simon Bridges unranked “reflecting on his future” and Paula Bennett  dropped to thirteen it has been noted that Maori representation has slipped away (not that Bridges or Bennett addressed Maori issues much).

There has been a difference of descriptions for Bridges’ current situation.

Former leader Simon Bridges has said he needs time to reflect on his future. Mr Muller said there would be a place for him in his Cabinet should he decide to stay in politics.

But Newshub says Defiant Simon Bridges smacks down Todd Muller’s assertion he’s ‘considering his future’, plans to stay on

After being rolled on Friday by Todd Muller, a defiant Bridges has told Newshub he won’t be pushed from the party.

“Just to be clear, after the reshuffle today, I am not considering my future,” Bridges told Newshub. “Just having a small amount of time out to take stock after the loss on Friday.”

This was a direct smack-down to Muller suggesting Bridges was considering his future.

It doesn’t seem much like a ‘smackdown’ to me, just Bridges putting his situation in his own words. And it is likely to take him a bit of time to take stock of his political future.

The full lineup and allocation of portfolios here:

Click to access National_Party_portfolio_allocations.pdf

Time will tell how Muller and his team perform. They get their first chance in Parliament today in Question Time, it will be interesting to see how Muller handles his first stint there as leader.

Todd Muller – new National leader

Todd Muller successfully challenged Simon Bridges for the leadership of National yesterday. In the end it looked like a well planned and well executed change.

In his first media conference as leader Muller actually looked well prepared and presented himself very well. He said a number of smart things in his prepared speech, and looked very capable handling questions from journalists.

His choice of Nikki Kaye as deputy provides a good balance (urban liberal beside his conservative rural), and she has been an able and successful MP (she twice defeated Ardern on the Auckland Central electorate).

I think this change had to happen, and with Muller’s focus on rebuilding communities after the impact of Covid-19, and also his business experience promoted in pushing for an economic recovery, this will enhance our political landscape.

His speech began:

The past few months, our country has made many sacrifices.

You have made many sacrifices. You have put a lot on the line to get us through this crisis.

Now, we must begin taking another step forward together, with confidence.

The confidence to rebuild our country, rebuild our economy and to restore the livelihoods of New Zealanders.

Only a National government can provide the leadership to do that.

That is why we must win the next election.

While well behind in the polls right now Muller has to at least be seen to be aiming for a win in the election.

My absolute focus as National Party Leader will be New Zealand’s economic recovery.

We will save jobs, get the economy growing again and we will do so by leveraging our country’s great strengths: our people, our communities, our great natural resources, our values of hard work, tenacity, innovation and aspiration.

This is an obvious focus for a National leader, and it is seen as a key in the upcoming election (in September). The Government has handled the health side of the pandemic very well (mostly) but the crunch will be repairing the economic effects.

Yes, I’ve run businesses. I can read a balance sheet and a profit and loss account.  I can tell a good one from a bad one.  And yes, I’ll bring those skills to the Prime Ministership.

But that’s not what drives me.

What drives me is community – the people who help their elderly neighbours with the lawns on the weekend; The Dad who does the food stall at the annual school fair; The Mum who coaches a touch rugby team;

This election will be about the economy, but not the economy the bureaucracy talks about. It’ll be about the economy that you live in – the economy in your community – your job, your main street, your marae, your tourism business, your local rugby league club, your local butcher, your kura, your netball courts, your farms, your shops and your families.

This is the economy National MPs are grounded in, and the one that matters most to New Zealand.

For too long this economy, your economy – and your life – has been invisible to decision makers in Wellington.

This addresses a lot of grizzles one hears about bureaucrats dominating, out of touch with ordinary people.

Muller addressed things that had been an image problem for Bridges.

This is what you can expect from my leadership: First and foremost – I’m about what’s best for you and your family – not what’s wrong with the Government.

And I’m not interested in opposition for opposition’s sake. We’re all tired of that kind of politics.

However he also took some gentle sounding but fairly scathing swipes

Will I criticise the government?  Yes.

Labour has failed against every measure it has set for itself in Government- KiwiBuild, Light Rail, child poverty, prison numbers.

If we continue on this track of talking a big game but failing to deliver, we simply won’t recognise the New Zealand we are part of in a few years’ time.

…but ultimately, values and ideas are what ground me.

Like the idea that you can shape your own future and are free to do so.

I believe in enterprise, reward for hard work, personal responsibility, and in the power of strong families and communities.

Very National Party.

Fundamentally, I don’t believe that for each and everyone of us to do better, someone else has to be worse off.

Sounds fine, but very difficult thing to avoid in practice.

In response to questions he praised Jacinda Ardern and her Government’s efforts dealing with Covid, but highlighted perceived weaknesses.

He said that while Ardern and her top three or so ministers were doing well but said the quality or ability dropped off very quickly after that. The lack of depth in the current Cabinet has often been claimed. At one stage he refereed to ‘seventeen empty seats”.

Muller is a good speaker, he had a well written, carefully worded and targeted speech, and he made a very good first impression. Unlike Bridges he got the balance about right between promoting his and his party’s own credentials, acknowledging achievements of the current Government, but also making strong criticisms where there are weaknesses without sounding too negative.

It will be a huge task to get National back up and competitive with Labour, and even then National has a lack of potential coalition partners (but he didn’t rule out reconsidering the caucus decision not to deal with NZ First).

But if Muller continues the way he started he should do a better job at holding the Government to account and promoting a viable alternative.

He said that being open and authentic was important – hopefully he won’t be taken over by remodelling media minders.

He has already shown that he is ambitious and determined – and must have set up a good team of helpers.

He has already succeeded in a number of things:

  • A successful career in the kiwifruit industry and with Fonterra
  • Being nominated for and winning a safe-ish electorate
  • Quietly but successfully becoming established as a back bench MP
  • Doing a lot of work in his role as spokesperson on agriculture and horticulture(that’s going to be important on the recovery)
  • His work with James Shaw on a Carbon Zero Bill that had cross party support
  • Picking the right time to successfully roll Bridges
  • Kicking off his leadership with a very good speech and session with journalists.
  • His choice of Nikki Kaye as deputy provides a good balance, and she has been a good and successful MP (she twice defeated Ardern on the Auckland Central electorate).

It’s very early days, but Muller should at least be able to stem the rapuid slide of National, should be able to recover some ground and may be able to get back to at least some semblance of competitiveness this election.

He may not become Prime Minister later this year, but if he does well but doesn’t make it he should be able to keep his job to continue the rebuilding of National next term.

Full speech: Todd Muller new National Leader

Muller indicated that Paul Goldsmith will remain as National’s spokesperson on Finance but said it would take a few days to work out the new lineup and roles, which is obvious.He had a few senior MPs lined up beside him as he gave his speech.

A bit will depend on what Bridges and his also deposed deputy Paula Bennett decide to do about their futures in politics.

New National leader today looks likely

The National caucus is scheduled to meet at noon today to decide whether to dump Simon Bridges and replace him as their leader with probably Todd Muller (there are other rumours floating around but I doubt they will come to anything).

A bad poll for National and bridges on Tuesday gave impetus to a coup that seems to have alre3ady been fomenting. Bridges foorced the issue in Wednesday, calling the caucus meeting for Friday. Another bad poll for both National (29%) and Bridges (bugger all %) yesterday confirmed the party’s dire situation.

Media are talking as if it’s almost a done deal against Bridges. It’s possible he may step down before high noon.

Richard Harman (Politik): D-day for Bridges

Bridges camp was aware last night that defeat was likely today.

They must have been startled yesterday by reports of significant defections of caucus heavyweights from Leader Simon Bridges’ support. The confirmation on One News Colmar Brunton poll of National’s low rating appears to have simply added to the pressure for change.

It is even possible that Bridges might – for the sake of party unity — decide to resign before the caucus meeting.

NZ Herald – National Party showtime: Simon Bridges and Todd Muller prepare for leadership battle

Yesterday, neither the Bridges nor the Muller camp seemed certain they had the 28 votes needed, but both claimed to have strong numbers and one MP involved said it was looking “very, very close.”

The poll result may have changed that for MPs still wavering.

Muller’s camp said the poll results showed there was an urgent need for a change in leadership to reclaim that lost ground – and even Bridges’ own supporters acknowledged the poll would make it a lot harder for Bridges.

Newshub: National Party MPs prepare for midday Simon Bridges, Todd Muller leadership contest

Until Thursday night, the numbers looked to be evenly balanced with neither side willing to claim a majority but the 29 percent result seems to have pushed a group of undecided MPs towards the Muller camp, and potentially some who had been backing Bridges.

MPs talk about acting in the best interests of the party but what will be motivating many – namely list MPs and those in marginal seats – is self interest; with these poll numbers many would be out of Parliament.

So the outcome looks uncertain at this stage, publicly at least.

If Bridges hangs on it is likely to be dire for National. He already looks like damaged goods, and a close win will just highlight that lack of strong support for him in caucus, and the public are likely to see him as a lame duck leader.

If Muller wins it won’t be easy to even stop the bleeding of support let alone rebuilding it. He has had a low political profile and is unknown by most voters, but he has the advantages of not being Bridges and having no known baggage. He also has a probable advantage of polls just having been done – it will be a while before there’s another poll so will give him a chance to get established.

I would be most unlikely top vote for National led by Bridges, he has rarely impressed me and I don’t like the direction he seems to be taking the party.

If Muller or someone else I will take time to decide whether i think the change is for the better of not. It’s impossible to know how people will come across as leaders until they have had a go for a while.

We will find out some time today who will have the job of trying to revive a party with evaporating support.

Bridges fighting for leadership but numbers may be against him

Simon Bridges precipitated a quick resolution to the leadership challenge against him. he National caucus will meet at in Wellington at noon on Friday to decide whether to dump Bridges.

At this stage there is only one challenger, Todd Muller, with Nikki Kaye proposed as his deputy. Both Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell have said they will not challenge, and they probably don’t have time to change their minds due to the rushed timeframe.

Richard Harman thinks that Muller probably has the numbers to roll Bridges: How Bridges flushed out Muller

National Leader Simon Bridges was last night phoning caucus members trying to win enough votes to stave off a vote of no confidence this Friday. But it is probably too late.

Multiple sources have told POLITIK that there is a majority who want him out.

If the vote succeeds, there is only one challenger for the leadership, Bay of Plenty MP, Todd Muller.

The other possible contender, Papakura MP, Judith Collins, has made it clear she will not be standing.

POLITIK understands it was Collins who first alerted Bridges to Muller’s challenge last Saturday. One source told POLITIK she told him that there was a majority in the caucus who opposed him continuing in the leadership.

From Simon Bridges vs Todd Muller: It’s all about the big W for National

Yet as it stood late yesterday, the Bridges forces were confident of their numbers, which importantly, includes a lot of the heavyweights on the party’s front bench and within the party including shadow cabinet members Paul Goldsmith, Todd McClay, Michael Woodhouse, Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell, and Brett Hudson. Between them they cover the portfolios of finance, trade, economic development, defence, justice, health, and police.

But team Muller is also confident it has the numbers, especially as at least 16 current MPs are facing unemployment if the numbers from Monday night’s poll are replicated on election night. Muller himself is calling or meeting with every MP he can.

Woodhouse, Goldsmith and Hudson are in precarious situations – on current polling they could easily lose their seats in Parliament.

It’s standard for defenders and contenders to claim to have the numbers, but that could be bluff and bluster, and numbers can easily change, especially if MPs sense which way a decision may go, and consider their political careers.

A challenge isn’t much of a surprise. Bridges has failed to appeal to most voters, and support for national has slipped badly over the last two months.

Stuff has details on Muller: Todd Muller, the man who could be prime minister

Detractors lash Muller as a return to the “pale, stale, male” era of big business and bigger egos the party should have left behind.

But Muller backers equally make the point that if National plans to torch Labour for a lack of private-sector experience, Crown prosecutor-cum-MP Bridges might not be the man to do it.

A 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll, completed last night and to be revealed tonight, is likely to add to the numbers against Bridges.

Muller is not well known but that would change, to an extent, if he took over the leadership. He would still battle in the shadow of Jacinda Ardern’s media profile, but the hope must be that he can at least stem the bleeding of support for National.

Matthew Hooton on RNZ this morning called Bridges’ calling of an urgent meeting an act of political harikari, although claims that earlier in the week Muller was a couple of votes short. he thinks that Bridges’ action yesterday may have swung numbers against him.

National “would get New Zealand working again” if they could, maybe

National have to watch while the Government keep announcing policies they are putting into practice to deal with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 epidemic.

Leader Simon Bridges announced hypothetical policy today. It’s only purpose is to try to attract attention and portray National as having good ideas, although knowing that it won’t be implemented makes it unneccesary to even be effective or viable – it only has to sound appealing to some voters.

The key part is:

“To reduce the damage and to save jobs, National would offer a GST cash refund of up to $100,000 – based off the GST they paid in the 6 months to 1 January 2020 – to the small businesses most affected.”

GST is only one business expense and I think it would be hard to identify “businesses most affected” and provide effective targeting. I guess a lot of business people grumble about GST but this seems an odd way of supporting at risk businesses.

From the National Party website:

National would get New Zealand working again

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has today announced the first part of National’s plan for getting New Zealand working again.

“New Zealand has flattened the curve. Our first priority now must be to lift the restrictions that are flattening the economy.

“We need to get cash flowing to the thousands of small businesses that were forced to close in the national interest, and left shouldering a disproportionate amount of the economic burden.

“To reduce the damage and to save jobs, National would offer a GST cash refund of up to $100,000 – based off the GST they paid in the 6 months to 1 January 2020 – to the small businesses most affected. They would need to demonstrate a revenue drop of more than 50 per cent across two successive months due to the lockdown rules.

“We estimate this could benefit up to 160,000 businesses and save countless jobs.

“If the business paid more than $100,000 in GST over that period, then they would be able to claim up to an additional $250,000 as a repayable loan over 5 years.

“National understands the key to growing the economy is to encourage and incentivise business investment.

“That’s why we would temporarily lift the threshold to expense new capital investment for firms. The Government lifted the threshold from $500 to $5000 as part of its Covid response. We’d go much further and lift it to $150,000 for two years.

For example, if a company spends $145,000 on a new machine to improve its productivity, rather than depreciating that asset over many years, it will be able to expense the full $145,000 in this tax year.

“What we do in the next few months is critical to help businesses survive and save jobs.

“The Government took the right steps to contain the virus but already it’s stalling on what to do next.

“National will work alongside New Zealanders to achieve jobs, sustainable growth and boundless opportunities for New Zealanders and their families.

“Kiwis have done a great job self-isolating and social distancing to save lives. But with 1000 people a day joining the dole queue, we now need to turn our attention to saving jobs.

“National will get New Zealand working again.”

National can’t do anything about getting New Zealand business going again for most of the rest of the year at least, so this sounds like an election campaign slogan.

Pressure mounts on leadership of Simon Bridges

Simon Bridges has struggled to get things right as National leader and as a result has struggled to make a mark in ‘preferred Prime Minister polls. And despite some fairly mild criticism last week of Government actions in dealing with Covid-19, Bridges was hammered in social media and media.

His hold on the leadership was questioned – Richard Harman (Politik) last Thursday: Those who could depose Bridges

There are many rumours but few tangible signs that anybody in National is about to try and depose Leader, Simon Bridges.

The problem is not so much whether he should go but rather when and who should replace him.

POLITIK is aware of other MPs who have been told not to respond to media inquiries and not to issue press releases The impression is of a very strong centralisation of control within the party.

There are also concerns that Bridges’ list of close advisors leaves out some of the party’s better brains like Gerry Brownlee, Nikki Kaye, Judith Collins and Todd Muller.

Last Friday on RNZ Simon Bridges’ leadership questioned after missteps

The phones are running hot in the National Party caucus as MPs frantically try to figure out whether to replace Simon Bridges as leader after this week’s massive backlash.

MPs spoken to by RNZ were both dismayed and alarmed by the tsunami of negative public reaction.

That’s catapulted him into a place where once again his leadership is under threat. We’ve seen this before though; he’s seen off challenges in the toughest of times and will fight hard to do so again.

John Armstrong (1 News): Simon Bridges has to go, but is there another leader in National’s ranks?

Simon Bridges has to go. The moment has surely arrived to call time on his leadership of the National Party.

But will he go? And will he do so willingly? If not willingly, is there anyone in National’s parliamentary ranks in possession of both the qualities and qualifications required of a leader? Who in addition has the gumption to force the issue and the guts to do battle with the incumbent?

The answer to that latter question has to be an emphatic and unqualified “no”. Were there an MP in National’s caucus who fitted that bill, Bridges would have been looking for a career switch many months ago.

This is a problem for any Opposition Party with a malfunctioning leadership and a very popular Prime Minister – finding someone capable of stepping up, and finding someone willing to try when a loss this election looks quite likely.

Caucus dissatisfaction when public last night via Newshub: Senior National MP Nick Smith lashes Simon Bridges’ decision-making in a caucus-wide letter

Newshub has learned that one of his veteran MPs Nick Smith, an MP for 24 years, has written a letter to Bridges and copied in his entire caucus.

The letter expresses disappointment – or as one of his colleagues put it to Newshub, “he’s pretty pissed” – about Bridges setting up a new COVID-19 policy team.

When contacted about the letter, Smith wouldn’t discuss any private communications but said there was no offer of resignation. Several other National MPs have also leaked details to Newshub about the letter.

All of this has played out on the eve of a National Party caucus meeting on Tuesday where Bridges’ leadership and some of his COVID-related judgement calls are expected to come up.

The only thing that may save Bridges – for now- is a lack of takers for the top job at a time that would make any traction very difficult.

It looks unlikely Bridges will lift himself or the party, but he may be left as a fall guy for this year’s election. However that’s a big political risk, as it could lead to the decimation or worse of the National caucus.

Bridges misjudged Facebook, media and public lockdown sentiments

Yesterday morning I referred to a statement by Simon Bridges on the National Party website, also posted on Bridges’ Facebook page where  there were a lot of critical comments  – see Bridges mildly criticises Level 4 lockdown extension and other things.

Bridges seems to have badly misjudged public sentiment about the Level 4 lockdowm, it’s extension by a few days, and the lowering next week to level 3 that still largely restricts social movements in public, as well as businesses that involve social contact.

Through the day most media covered this.

Stuff: Simon Bridges receives huge backlash to Facebook post criticising lockdown extension

National leader Simon Bridges has defended himself after receiving an avalanche of negativity on a Facebook post criticising the Government’s Covid-19 response.

The post received over 24,000 comments, far more than the hundreds Bridges’ posts typically receive.

The tone of the comments seen by Stuff was overwhelmingly but not uniformly negative, with many people who described themselves as National voters saying they disagreed.

One comment with close to 6000 likes from Monique Wilson said “I did not Vote Labour but what I am proud of is the way Jacinda [Ardern] has lead us through this unprecedented time. Thank goodness Simon your not leading us through this because I’d put my hand on my heart and believe we would be in a worse situation.”

Another with close to 2000 likes from Debbie Kelliher said “Simon, I’m a national supporter but don’t support what you’ve just said at all.”

Over 7500 people gave an “angry” reaction to the post while 5700 did a “laughing” reaction – compared to 2800 likes.

Some comments were supportive, with Darren Mills writing he agreed with Bridges as “Not enough time spent on the economic side of this.”

Bridges defended himself when asked by media about the post today, saying the negativity was balanced out by the many supportive messages he received.

“There will be a bunch of different views, I know there are views online,” Bridges said.

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges’ Facebook post criticising lockdown extension slammed
Also via NewstalkZB: ‘Tone-deaf’: Bridges faces online fury over Facebook post

National Leader Simon Bridges has been forced to defend himself after facing a flurry of online fury over a social media post about the Government’s decision to extend the level 4 lockdown.

The Facebook post has attracted more than 16,000 reactions – many of them negative.

But speaking to media this afternoon, Bridges was quick to defend the post, saying there are “a bunch of different views” online.

When pressed on the negative reactions, he said people are entitled to have their own views.

Newshub: National supporters threaten to abandon Simon Bridges after Facebook post criticising COVID-19 lockdown extension

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is defending a Facebook post he published criticising the extended COVID-19 lockdown after it received a flood of negative comments from National supporters.

Newshub looked through the comments on Bridges’ Facebook post and found that people who appear to be legitimate National Party supporters are backing the Government en masse and its decision to extend the lockdown for a week.

Out of the 100 most recent comments on the post at the time of viewing it, Newshub found that four were in favour of the Opposition leader’s remarks while 96 were opposed.

“My National vote is quickly turning because of your attitude Simon Bridges. You are acting like a child,” a Christchurch man wrote in the comment section. “Your days are numbered as leader. Every time you open your mouth you are losing voters.”

An Auckland woman who works at a dental centre wrote: “I’m a National supporter but think the PM has made the right decision. I’m in a high risk industry that won’t be able to operate fully until we are in level 1.

Out of the 100 most recent comments on the post at the time of viewing it, Newshub found that four were in favour of the Opposition leader’s remarks while 96 were opposed.

“My National vote is quickly turning because of your attitude Simon Bridges. You are acting like a child,” a Christchurch man wrote in the comment section. “Your days are numbered as leader. Every time you open your mouth you are losing voters.”

An Auckland woman who works at a dental centre wrote: “I’m a National supporter but think the PM has made the right decision. I’m in a high risk industry that won’t be able to operate fully until we are in level 1.

Bridges said the negative views online are “more than matched by over 50,000 people who contacted me in relation to our quarantining petition” – an idea that was adopted by the Government.

“Of the many thousands who’ve emailed me as small business people, some of them bring me to tears the way they beg for help in this instance when they do feel like sacrificial lambs,” Bridges said.

The quarantine of people arriving in the country would have happened regardless of the petition, and that was a couple of weeks ago. This week Bridges appears to have badly misjudged public sentiment on the lockdown plans.

1 News:  Simon Bridges defends his stance on bringing alert level down sooner after being ‘obliterated’ online (video)

It’s never easy being Leader of the Opposition, but this is a big balls up if Bridges thought he would tap into popular support.

Martyn Bradbury at The Daily Blog: Simon Bridges horrifically misreads the mood of the Nation – he may as well urinate on an ANZAC grave


There is tone deaf and then there is Simon Bridges.

MickySavage at The Standard: When Bridges’ social media goes wrong

Simon Bridges’s Facebook post criticising the extension of lockdown level 4 has been met with overwhelming opposition, including from people who are clearly National Party supporters.

Left wing blogs would pile in against Bridges.

Maybe he should just try a guest post at Kiwiblog, but yesterday even there Bridges wasn’t exactly a raging success – see from here.

This comment has been a common claim against Bridges:

Bridges is when he complains, which is the job of opposition, it sounds like whining.

Another says:

Bridges is universally disliked across all media, he will never get any traction, they just don’t like who he is and what he stands for.

Apart from the nonsense of this, it wasn’t ‘the media’ that protested against Bridges on Facebook.

RNZ Power Play: A war footing from Ardern and misstep from Bridges

As the Opposition leader and chair of Parliament’s Epidemic Committee, National Party’s Simon Bridges has been their voice. Unfortunately for him, the current climate means many New Zealanders don’t want to hear direct criticism of the government as it offends that sense of patriotism.

He hit the wrong note in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis with a combative approach even many of his own MPs saw as tone deaf. Bridges has been at his best leading the committee, providing the de facto scrutiny of the debating chamber while Parliament is adjourned.

Shortly after the announcement of the extra week before moving to level 3, Bridges abandoned his constructive pose of recent weeks and accused the government of failing to do the groundwork on testing, contract tracing and making PPE properly available, forcing an extended and damaging lockdown.

Valid points, and ones National has persistently pursued in past weeks, but if the backlash on his own Facebook page was anything to go by, he misjudged the tone. He had risked becoming irrelevant as the government machine drove the response – Bridges has played a valuable role but his natural instinct to go on the attack has done him few favours once again.

Bridges (and presumably his advisers) is not good at judging public sentiment, and nor is he good at expressing his own sentiments.

This backlash against his critical post also suggests that the Government measures over lockdowns and protecting people from the Covid-19 virus have generally widespread public support.

And this should have been easy to read.

The Spinoff (8 April): Almost 90% of New Zealanders back Ardern government on Covid-19 – poll

The (Colmar Brunton )poll found that 83% of respondents have “trust in the government to deal successfully with national problems”, while 88% “trust the government to make the right decisions on Covid-19”.

NZ Herald (12 April) – Covid 19 coronavirus survey: Most New Zealanders willing to extend lockdown

Almost two-thirds of New Zealanders are willing to have the lockdown extended so Covid-19 can be eradicated, a new (Research New Zealand ) survey has found.

Stuff (18 April):  60 per cent of Stuff poll respondents want to stay in lockdown

Newshub (19 April) – Coronavirus poll results: Should New Zealand leave COVID-19 lockdown this week?

On Saturday, Newshub asked readers if they thought New Zealand should leave lockdown next week. Of the 44,768 responses, 28,716 voters – just over 64 percent – said no. The other 16,052 said yes. (The poll is not scientific and shouldn’t necessarily be considered an accurate reflection of the views of the wider New Zealand population).