In a series of interviews this morning, a very high-ranking member of the National caucus has set the clock ticking, laying out exactly what Bridges needs to achieve in the coming polls to remain in his job
Last night the immediate damage to the National Party from the Jami-Lee Ross saga was laid out in a Colmar Brunton poll for TVNZ, which showed a slip in party support to 43%, trailing Labour on 45%, 14 points behind the combined parties of government.
A two-point drop in what Bridges pronounced the “toughest, worst week in politics I’ve seen for National” is arguably a very satisfactory result – very little brittleness in that base. The preferred PM numbers are much less so, with Simon Bridges – who can no longer use the excuse of a lack of name recognition – coming in at 7%, precisely one sixth the number Jacinda Ardern collected, and only two points ahead of the perennially touted would-be National leader, Judith Collins.
In an interview on RNZ’s Morning Report, a senior MP issued a coded ultimatum to the National leader, saying that despite yesterday’s result the party would soon “be back ahead of Labour”.
The MP said, “The only poll that counts is the party vote” and “the reality is, what you’ve seen, in the eye of the storm, which is when that poll was done, we’re at 43%”.
He added: “I’ve got no doubt, actually, you give it a few weeks, someone will do another poll and you’ll see the National Party ahead of Labour.”
The senior National MP reiterated that pledge on Newshub’s AM Show: “We’ll be back ahead of Labour very soon, I have no doubt about that.” What mattered, he said, was “the party vote is the poll that matters. That’s what determines power.”
He refused to be drawn on a specific number that would trigger a leadership challenge, simply saying: “We’ll get stronger, and I think you’ll see that in the next polls.”
In yet another interview this morning, the MP reiterated that position. “It’s the party vote that matters,” he told Newstalk ZB. “Forty-three [percent] is temporary and we’ll quickly surpass Labour again in these polls.”
The National Party, he told RNZ, remained “incredibly resilient and strongly supported, and I believe we’ll see that strength grow”.
The MP did not explicitly say Bridges’ role was at risk, but did say the leader had “tough issues to face and deal with”.
It is hard to avoid concluding that the assurance, one repeated across at least three media interviews this morning, that the National Party would return to the top of the single-party polling in just “a few weeks” sends a clear and targeted message to Simon Bridges.
The senior MP has publicly laid down a challenge to Simon Bridges: overtake Labour in preferred party polling or the caucus unity witnessed since the expulsion of Jami-Lee Ross is over. The MP has today set the clock ticking.
It is unknown whether Simon Bridges will discuss this morning’s ultimatum with the senior MP, who is Simon Bridges.