Bridges leads Nats with Ben­nett as deputy

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - STACEY KIRK

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.’’

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 English 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.

PHOTO: KEVIN STENT/STUFF

New Na­tional Party leader Si­mon Bridges and deputy Paula Ben­nett af­ter the cau­cus vote yes­ter­day at Par­lia­ment.

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