A Bridge too far


Yesterday, our excellent writer, Suze, wrote?A fight to the political death, telling her theories about how the Jami-Lee Ross debacle unfolded. I am making the assumption that Suze does not have any inside information, and that this article was her own theory as to what has gone on up until now.

Fair enough. It is a disaster of unmitigated proportions, especially if you have anything to do with the National party.

But I have been formulating some theories of my own over this matter, starting with my own post?The Inception Party, which came about purely because of what had been discussed on Talkback. I named it ‘Inception’ after the movie because… well, I thought people were dreaming.

Now I’m not so sure. So here is my theory and it is only a theory – I have no inside knowledge of what has gone on.

I have realised that we are all looking at this train wreck in the National party with the benefit of hindsight. We can all see what has happened so far, but what if this was not the way it was supposed to turn out? Let’s look at it from front end – from a planning perspective.
Jami-Lee Ross had huge ambitions that had been thwarted by Simon Bridges not giving him either the shadow leader of the house or the Chief Whip’s role when he became the leader. So, he devised a plan to take Bridges down. He made the decision to leak the details of Bridges’ travel expenses. Nothing too damning, just enough to send the media off down that path, and to lower Bridges’ ratings even further. Then at some point, Ross would announce his departure from the National party, citing ‘no confidence’ in the leader. That alone might have damaged Bridges irrevocably. Ross would then have set about winning Botany as an independent, and then set up a new party to contest the 2020 election, indicating throughout the campaign that he will be happy to work with the new National leader. Bang! National has a coalition partner, Bridges is gone, and Ross and the new leader are working together in political harmony.

That – I assume – was the strategy, and it was brilliant. But it backfired spectacularly.

Simon Bridges was not supposed to order an inquiry. Everyone mocked him for doing it, saying it was all over nothing. For all they say about him being a terrible leader, he must have got a whiff of dissension in the ranks. He was like a dog with a bone. He would not let this go.

Then out came a text, supposedly from someone suffering from a mental disorder, pleading with Bridges to call off the inquiry, hoping that he would get some sympathy and have the inquiry scuttled. Trevor Mallard, obviously with some inside knowledge, washed his hands of the whole affair, saying it was a National party matter. That should have told us all something.

Bridges held his ground. He knew something was amiss. He continued with the inquiry. And the whole plan was starting to fall around Jami-Lee Ross’s ears.

The problem was that Ross himself had a history. Whether he was the leaker or not, stories had begun to emerge about him treating his employees, particularly women, very badly. It is now known that he was involved in a confidential settlement two years ago with a female staffer, which was brokered by the National party president, Peter Goodfellow. Now more stories had started to emerge, and Bridges could see that he had to shut it down. He tried to bundle Ross off on ‘medical’ leave but made a complete hash of the press conference by referring to the matter as ’embarrassing’. I think we now know that it was very embarrassing indeed. Four women were making harassment claims against Ross, with more in the wings. It all needed to be dealt with swiftly.

Ross should have taken the opportunity presented to him and gone quietly, taken time to regroup, come back after a while, and started his campaign again. Okay -? so Bridges was onto him but Bridges wasn’t going to last anyway, so that wouldn’t matter in the long run. Everyone knows the Chief Whip has all the dirt on everyone in the party. He could bribe and blackmail his way to a great political future. He was clearly quite capable of it.

Instead of taking the smart route, Ross decided to go ‘full retard’, as we say on this blog. He held a press conference when all of his colleagues were tied up in the house and fired salvo after salvo at his own party, and particularly its leader. He promised taped recordings, police action and eventual prosecutions. It was the stuff of sensational political fiction. Nobody could make this up… well, you could, but it would be seen as too far fetched to be true. Reality is like that sometimes.

Trouble is, Ross had too many skeletons in his own closet to try to claim the moral high ground. It was only ever a matter of time before he was found out. He must have thought he was quite safe, making statements about ‘respecting women’ never dreaming that some of those women would come forward and tell a different story. As soon as that happened, particularly when one identified herself, he was finished. Despite all of his claims against Bridges, the smoking gun has turned out to be a toy pistol, so he was probably finished anyway. Now he has no way back and he knows it.

He has now decided to carry on in parliament and will continue on his destructive path, at least until Bridges is gone. It won’t do him any good now. He needed a Plan B, and he didn’t have one. He also needed to keep his head, and he didn’t do that either.

Also, while I think the whole plan was excellent, I suspect that whoever has been advising him – and no, I have no idea – never realised how unstable Ross really is and that has been a major factor in all of this. Ross comes across as coherent and highly functioning, but his derangement was beginning to show though. How anyone can just lie to the media, and then simply swat away the lies a few days later, is anyone’s guess. Contrast that with Simon Bridges who cannot tell a lie if his life depends on it.

I feel for Bridges in all of this, but unfortunately, he has to step down. So does Paula Bennett and so should most of the National party administration, who knew they had a ticking time bomb in their midst at least 2 years ago, and did nothing other than hush it up.

I have one other question.

Was it Ross that leaked the information about Winston’s pension overpayment?

Is it possible that Winston went along with the ‘leak’ of his pension details, knowing he would come out of it looking good but it would permanently damage National’s election campaign? He could pin it all on Bill English, and use it as a reason to refuse to do a deal with National. Once Winston had worked through the theatre of choosing a coalition partner, Bill English would be gone. All his enemies disposed of brilliantly. Well, almost all of them.

This is only a theory, remember.

This may be the point at which you say – “You may very well think that, Christie. I couldn’t possibly comment.”