Hooton’s Burning Bridges

Matthew Hooton seems to have finally run out of patience with Simon Bridges. At least he gave him a fair chance, unlike Tova O’Brien, who appears to have a personal grudge against Bridges. The thing is, as the weeks go by and we get closer to next year’s election – possibly only 15 months away now – National needs to do something… but there is no sign that anything is going to change anytime soon.

National’s annual conference starting today is doomed to be a success because organisers do whatever it takes to ensure party conferences always are.

This weekend, leadership contenders Judith Collins and Todd Muller will be on their best behaviour. Simon Bridges will be given free rein to present himself with the usual slick corporate video and keynote speech on which his advisers will have been working for months. There will be a couple of policy announcements, one to delight the base and another to attract the median voter.

But no one will be deluded into thinking any but a small minority of delegates genuinely support Bridges. Beyond those in the Christchurch Town Hall, party donors have shut their wallets and the attitude of National’s wider supporters is recorded with at least some accuracy by the polling companies.

Those who see themselves as leadership contenders probably need to get the knife sharpeners out.

National is walking towards a defeat every bit as devastating as Bill English’s in 2002.
Optimists tell themselves that National can be content as long as it sits around 40 per cent in the polls.

In fact, National is probably not above 40 per cent any longer, with at least two prominent polling companies putting it at more like 38, with Act adding another 1 per cent to the Opposition tally.

In what is generally regarded as National’s absolute nadir in 2002, when it won just 21 per cent, Act and United Future came in with 7 per cent each for a broad centre-right score of 35 per cent, not much less than now under Bridges.
Add in the 1 per cent that went to each of the Christian Heritage and Outdoor Recreation parties and the actual situation for the centre-right is already pretty much as bad as that night in 2002 when the party was reduced to tears.

Ouch. He is quite right of course. With the evaporation of National’s support parties, they have to do it all alone. That is not going to be easy, although there are fewer small parties in contention now.

Worse, regardless of what decision Bridges eventually makes with respect to a possible coalition with NZ First, Winston Peters is set to make a pitch to National voters that a vote for his crew is necessary to check the Greens in a second-term Ardern regime. If the polls stay anywhere near where they are now, there will be an indisputable logic to what the old man claims.

Could Winston really pull that off, when there is nothing stopping him going into a coalition with National?

Bridges has convinced himself that Scott Morrison’s unexpected victory over Labor’s Bill Shorten is a model for his own path to power. But those closely involved with Morrison’s win say very few lessons can be taken from Australia. Its preferential voting electoral system is closer to our old first past the post, so that Morrison was able to ignore potential Liberal voters in safe seats and focus on those in marginals, especially but not exclusively in Queensland.

Absolutely right. A lot less can be taken for granted under MMP. And Bill Shorten was no Jacinda Ardern.

Through the Australian campaign, Morrison sat around 40 per cent as preferred Prime Minister and Shorten in the high twenties. The gap between Jacinda Ardern and Bridges is four times as great.

Sadly for him, voters simply won’t take seriously anything Bridges has to say, so National has no effective means of communicating policy to the public, even if it had any.

The Ardern Government is the emptiest and most incompetent in living memory, and confronted with even a moderately appealing Opposition should be laughed out of office after a single term.

Yes, it should. Labour does have a few things going for it though, like a sycophantic media and an extremely biased Speaker. Still, a decent opposition would be able to get some hits. Look how Judith Collins demolished Phil Twyford… and now looks like a cat with the cream when attacking Megan Woods.

That its constituent parties sit at around 60 per cent in the polls, 20 points ahead of the Opposition, is an indictment on all those whose job it is to hold power to account.

A Newspaper.

Yes. It should be. I am not sure that replacing Simon Bridges as leader will be enough to turn the tide against this government, but it might be a good place to start. We could be in election mode in 12 months time. We need to do something now… or we will be condemning the country to 3 more years of economic devastation, from which it might take decades to recover.

It will be condemning the country to 3 more years of photo opportunities and stories about Neve and the fisherman too, which is almost as bad. I don’t know what the answer is, Simon, but hard luck, mate – it doesn’t seem to be you.