Get them over the bridge, Si­mon

The Timaru Herald - - COMMENT&OPINION -

pos­si­ble fu­ture push for power.

Si­mon Bridges ap­pears to have the tools to con­struct the first part of this tricky tri­umvi­rate: he has long been seen and groomed as lead­er­ship ma­te­rial, po­si­tioned him­self as a fron­trun­ner through­out the two-week cam­paign and yes­ter­day won on the sec­ond bal­lot, sug­gest­ing the lead­er­ship vote was rea­son­ably clear and decisive and the party rolled in nicely be­hind him. Job done.

The sec­ond part might be a lit­tle tougher in its con­struc­tion. Bridges is a proud ‘‘com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tive’’ whose so­cial pol­icy views mir­ror those of Bill English, the leader he suc­ceeds and the man he ac­knowl­edged so warmly yes­ter­day.

The new leader voted against same-sex mar­riage and op­poses eu­thana­sia. He goes to church and his fa­ther was a Bap­tist min­is­ter. That puts him at odds with not only the lib­eral fac­tion led by Amy Adams but, po­ten­tially, the sweep and mo­men­tum of pop­u­lar opin­ion in this coun­try and around the world. And de­spite his rel­a­tive youth at 41, and talk of gen­er­a­tional change within the party he now leads, such views are likely to en­sure lit­tle of the star­dust that lit up Jacin­da­ma­nia will rest on Bridges.

Na­tional ap­pears to have sim­ply found a fresh, youth­ful sticker to slap on the sta­tus quo. He has ac­knowl­edged the need to mod­ernise but yes­ter­day cau­tioned that this wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean any rad­i­cal change.

What does that mean for the ‘‘broad church’’ of tal­ent he praised so highly in his first press con­fer­ence as leader? Com­men­ta­tors will be keep­ing a close eye on the fu­tures of Adams and fel­low lead­er­ship con­tenders Steven Joyce, Ju­dith Collins and Mark Mitchell.

One vi­tal con­duit, how­ever, still ap­pears to be a bridge too far. There was lit­tle in Bridges’ speech to sug­gest Na­tional is ready to tackle its great­est chal­lenge: mak­ing it­self at­trac­tive to other po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal part­ners; leav­ing it­self with more op­tions in fu­ture elec­tions than the man from Ep­som.

It was no­table yes­ter­day that Bridges ad­mon­ished the ‘‘ac­ci­den­tal, ex­per­i­men­tal’’ Labour-led coali­tion govern­ment. MMP was barely men­tioned.

To bor­row a good Kiwi col­lo­qui­al­ism, the party and its lead­er­ship need to build a bridge and get over it, and Bridges and re­elected deputy Paula Ben­nett will need to play key roles in lay­ing down that path. Lest they be left on that myth­i­cal span to nowhere.

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