Bridges leads Nats, Bennett deputy
Simon Bridges has emerged victorious from a caucus vote to decide the next leader of the National Party.
Paula Bennett was elected deputy leader in a process that saw two rounds of voting for both. Bridges cited ‘‘caucus confidentiality’’ in refusing to reveal who ran against Bennett for deputy, but sources have confirmed it was Judith Collins.
It’s also been confirmed rival Mark Mitchell pulled out of the competition at the 11th hour, before voting commenced because he did not have the numbers. It’s understood his support numbered about 12 to 15, and may have drawn out voting past the second round had they stuck with him.
Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Bridges said his leadership would see the party fulfil three things.
‘‘Yes, we’ll hold the Government to account and in that regard we’ll be firm but fair,’’ he said.
National would support the policies it saw as taking the country forward, while opposing those it thought were regressive or ‘‘treading water’’.
‘‘We’ll also be an alternative Government in waiting’’, but he would not be laying out a full suite of new policies immediately, he said.
‘‘New Zealand deserves better than a Government that is just muddling along.’’
Bridges signalled a greater emphasis on the environment, and has previously pointed towards the potential for working with the Greens as a coalition partner after the 2020 election.
‘‘Over time, we will continue to develop positive policies for our economy, as well as education, health and law and order.
‘‘We can’t go into the election with the same plans we’ve had, we can’t do the same things. We have to modernise,’’ he said.
But that did not mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. ‘‘We’re not going to have a full policy review, I don’t accept we got things wrong in the economy.
‘‘There’ll be a basic continuity there in terms of being the party focused on strong economic management.’’ And while Bridges did not accept National got it wrong in the regions, its campaign and emphasis in the regions would be different to what it was going into last year’s election.
Bridges said a reshuffle would occur in coming weeks, and signalled a few speeches in which he would be laying out the kind of leader he would be.
His rivals would fare well in a reshuffle, Bridges said. But he would not confirm whether Joyce would be given finance. ‘‘I would like to see Steven Joyce with a very strong role. We all know his strengths in finance and the economy, but also in campaigning. I can’t say at the moment who is going to be the finance spokesman, but I can say with confidence he’s going to be given a strong role.’’
Long touted as one of the frontrunners to replace the retiring English, Bridges was the first to gain majority support in the five-strong field.
Bridges said it was ‘‘an enormous privilege’’ to be elected leader by his colleagues.
His job was ‘‘to hold the Jacinda Ardern - Winston Peters coalition to account’’.
‘‘Their government is big on lofty intentions, but struggling to turn that into real gains for New Zealanders. That’s why we will continue to present an ambitious and strong alternative government, heading into 2020.’’
Bridges thanked his rivals in the competition. ‘‘I would like to commend Amy, Steven, Judith and Mark for putting themselves forward, and our colleagues for the constructive way we have handled this important decision. That gives me great confidence,’’ he said. ‘‘I would also like to thank Bill Eng- lish for his tremendous service.’’
And he welcomed the caucus’ choice to re-elect Bennett as his deputy - an appointment he indicated his preference for, before the vote.
New National Party leader Simon Bridges and deputy Paula Bennett after the caucus vote in Parliament yesterday.