Last chance

Herald on Sunday - - NEWS - Heather du Plessis-Al­lan u@HDPA

Heather on Si­mon Bridges’ woe­ful week

Can you imag­ine Si­mon Bridges as Prime Min­is­ter? That earnest way he an­swers ques­tions. His al­ways-fur­rowed brow. His plead­ing eyes.

It’s like he’s beg­ging you to take him se­ri­ously. It’s like he’s learnt his lines.

That’s the look of a politi­cian try­ing to im­i­tate some­thing he doesn’t have. Au­then­tic­ity.

Bridges never quite felt right for the lead­er­ship. It’s that lack of au­then­tic­ity, the bag­gage of the last gov­ern­ment, the pub­lic ob­ses­sion with his dic­tion. But, there was al­ways the chance Bridges would grow into the role.

Fat chance. Bridges is close to blow­ing it. His time is al­most up.

That might sound harsh. Af­ter all, he’s only been in the job seven-and-a-half months.

But he should’ve made it work by now. This should’ve been the eas­i­est ride for an Op­po­si­tion leader. The Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment’s been scor­ing own-goals from day one.

Na­tional didn’t have to do any­thing to look bet­ter by con­trast. Bridges could’ve turned on the telly, put up his feet, watched rugby for two-and-a-half years and still done bet­ter than he has.

Maybe it’s a sur­prise to Bridges that things have spun so out of con­trol so fast this week. One minute he was an­nounc­ing Par­lia­men­tary leave for his MP Jami-Lee Ross. Nek min­nit we’re all openly spec­u­lat­ing whether Bridges him­self is toast.

If that takes Bridges by sur­prise then he’s too naive to be in the job. Politi­cians don’t live or die by the stuff-ups thrown their way. It’s how they deal with them.

And all the way, Bridges’ judg­ment over the leak of his travel ex­penses has been WTF-bad. This could’ve been a three-day story back in Au­gust. In­stead, he’s dragged into a two-month cir­cus of spec­u­la­tion and in­trigue.

Take this week, for ex­am­ple. Bridges knew Ross was one of the MPs widely ru­moured to have leaked the travel ex­penses. He knew Ross’ leave would raise ques­tions about the orig­i­nal leak all over again. Yet, he held a press con­fer­ence, de­fended Ross and used the word “em­bar­rass­ing” to de­scribe Ross’ con­di­tion. Bad move.

Leaks work like this. First, some­one leaks. Then, the leader gets the wob­bles, makes mis­takes and looks weak. Then, the leaker or an­other op­por­tunist strikes again and again un­til the leader fi­nally falls off his bike com­pletely.

And this is ex­actly how this leak has played out. First the leak in Au­gust. Then Bridges made the mis­take of or­der­ing an in­quiry. Then, be­hind the scenes, over the past few weeks, there have been leaks and ru­mours from within Na­tional. That’s the rea­son Ross was one of the leak sus­pects. Be­cause some­one else leaked his name.

Bridges should’ve known this was likely. He’s been in Par­lia­ment al­most 10 years.

Bridges’ short­com­ings are adding up. Bad per­sonal polling. Or­der­ing the in­quiry. Call­ing Hous­ing New Zealand ten­ants meth crooks. Fail­ing to im­press busi­ness. In this week’s Her­ald Mood of the Board­room sur­vey, Bridges scores al­most as badly as Iain Lees-Gal­loway and that’s the guy try­ing to tor­pedo busi­ness with em­ploy­ment law changes that ter­rify them.

Bridges feels like a place­holder leader. The party clearly hasn’t dealt with the John Key break-up so they’ve picked some­one who re­minds them of Key.

Which might ex­plain the lack of au­then­tic­ity. Maybe Bridges is try­ing to em­u­late Key. But he can’t. He hasn’t got the po­lit­i­cal judge­ment.

We can see that. And clearly, so can some­one — or many some­ones — in Na­tional. Which is why Bridges’ days seem num­bered.

To res­cue this, Bridges must do a cou­ple of things at least. First, kill off this leak story ASAP. Which prob­a­bly means find­ing the leaker and mak­ing an ex­am­ple of them.

Then, make it pos­si­ble for vot­ers to imag­ine him as Prime Min­is­ter.

● Heather du Plessis-Al­lan is on New­stalk ZB in Welling­ton, week­days, 8.30am-noon.

Photo / John Bor­ren

Na­tional Party leader Si­mon Bridges is walk­ing a tightrope. H What’s your view? let­ters@hos.co.nz

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