Bridges trying to look like “Prime Minister in waiting”

Henry Cook (Stuff):  Simon Bridges doesn’t look like a Prime Minister in waiting yet, but he’s trying

It’s hard to describe, but there is an energy that surrounds prime ministers, and people on their way to becoming prime ministers. Even as you shake their hand and have a chat, you can feel the weight and power of something much larger than their physical form surrounding them.

John Key had it. Bill English learnt it in a hurry. And Jacinda Ardern seemed to command it the moment she took on the leadership, even when it seemed likely she would have to bide her time in Opposition for another three years.

Bridges’ problems:

Last year was a credibility problem. And…

…there remains a tendency to chase every passing car, possibly because there are so many National MPs without power.

National MP Barbara Kuriger put out a ridiculous press release attacking a “red-meat tax” last month, something the Government had very clearly not proposed.

And late last year National engaged in a bad-faith populist campaign against a United Nations migration pact it would have happily signed up to in Government.

Bridges has put Paula Bennett into the drug reform role ahead of the cannabis referendum, replacing the extremely reasonable and knowledgeable Shane Reti with someone much more likely to stoke simplistic scaremongering.

These are things thirsty opposition parties do, not ones ready for Government.

He put Bennett in charge of stoking simplistic scaremongering on drug reform just last month.

If Bridges wants to continue his transformation and start looking like a Prime Minister for everyone, not just the National Party base, these swings to the hard right should be put behind him. Just like his annus horribilis.

Feedback from the Kuriger and Bennett misfires may have contributed to a change in approach.

There is a palpable sense that National is attempting to move on from rowdy opposition to Government-in-waiting.

The most obvious example of this is National’s plans to release eight big policy documents over this year, with the line being that they “don’t want to wait for the Government”. The first of these on  tax thresholds will contrast nicely with whatever the Government’s Tax Working Group suggest. Indeed, National would be pleased if it could just talk about tax all year.

Bridges himself is attempting to shift his image from blustery former crown prosecutor to Prime-Minister-in-waiting.

Bridges and National have quite a bit to do yet to look like PM and Government in waiting. They have plenty of time – eighteen months – but do they have the people who can achieve it?