Simon Bridges through the eyes of a ex-political adviser to John Key’s National party

[…] Bridges is a 41 year old former crown prosecutor who […]  studied at Oxford. He was a senior minister in the John Key and Bill English governments. Socially conservative and economically dry, it can be expected he will change the party’s policy agenda, although he has said he supports its present direction, and believes that its existing economic platform is strong.

He is the first Maori leader of a major political party in New Zealand, and could well become New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister. He is unashamedly ambitious, and focused on ensuring that the National Party reassumes government at the next General Election in 2020. Polling well, more than financially buoyant and administratively competent and unified, it is in a strong position. There is no real issue dividing the parliamentary party or “caucus”, in the way that Brexit has divided Conservative MPs.

Yes, but how well will National do in the next poll considering that the Caucus ignored the wishes of the National party base? Polls showed very clearly that the base wanted Judith Collins as the new leader.

[…] The Labour Party unexpectedly won the 2017 election, and its campaign consisted of not much more than vague slogans about values. Bridges made this point in his first press conference as leader, describing the Prime Minister as a nice, well-intentioned person who has found herself almost accidentally leading a government.[…]

As his party’s leader, Bridges faces a weak government with a poorly defined sense of what it is doing.[…]

A plan for New Zealand

Bridges will be giving a series of speeches during the coming weeks outlining his vision for New Zealand in greater detail. The Key-English Government was defined by record popularity – harnessed by moderate policy change during the global financial crisis, the prudent management of public services, and rebuilding Christchurch after the earthquakes in 2011.

The challenge now is not only to defend that record, but write a new and compelling chapter that is distinct. There is a strong argument that, since the National Party received the highest vote share, voters did not necessarily reject its policies […]

The idea that the National party did nothing wrong because it had the highest vote share ignores the fact that many voted for National not because they were happy with National and their policies but because they saw them as the lesser of the two evils. National needs to become a party with centre-right policies that people support.

[…] Bridges has made clear that he stands for individual freedom, personal responsibility, competition, strong families and security: core National Party values, and indeed core centre-right values. 

He has also used the ‘progressive’ label which does not fit with centre-right values as it favours personal freedom over following traditional moral rules.

Winning the next election

[…] In New Zealand, substantial numbers of young people reportedly enrolled to vote ahead of the election. How National and other centre-right parties communicate their values and their story is critical to overcoming this. Failing that, centre-right parties will sleepwalk into a decade of social democratic rule in the western world.

The so-called youth vote didn’t win the election for Labour; it was handed to them on a platter by Winston Peters. They didn’t expect to win and they didn’t deserve to win but the coalition of losers was formed anyway. National does not need the ‘youth vote’ to regain power they need to win back their base of older people with centre-right policies and they need to stop taking their base for granted.

[…] National needs to strategise effectively over the next three years in order to grow the overall centre-right vote.[…]

They can grow it all they like but without viable coalition partners, they are doomed. If Winston Peters hadn’t been shafted by National operatives National would be in government right now. Under  MMP National needs to woo a coalition partner or two and they must stop acting as if it was still an FPP environment.

[…] the National Party could attempt to defy gravity at the 2020 election and seek to get a majority of the vote share but perhaps it is worth pointing out that no party in New Zealand has won more than 50 per cent of the vote-share since 1951.

[…] the centre-right cannot rely on vague Ardern-style values statements to win elections. Nor can it run on turgid policy platforms. They must ask themselves what the practical effect of policy will be on voters’ everyday lives, whether it is in housing and health, education, social policy or climate change.[…]

The National base simply does not care about so-called climate change.

Zach Castles was a political adviser to two senior ministers in John Key’s National-led Government. He now works in public affairs in London.


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