Bizarre fin­ish­ing note to the year for Nats

Sun­day’s poll re­sult stun­ning for party with un­pop­u­lar leader

Weekend Herald - - Audrey Young - au­[email protected]­ald.co.nz

Athe­ory emerged this week that Na­tional leader Si­mon Bridges had de­lib­er­ately pro­voked the Speaker to get him­self thrown out of Par­lia­ment. The the­ory goes that the con­se­quen­tial walk-out was a pub­lic demon­stra­tion of a cau­cus uni­fied be­hind him.

An­other the­ory goes that Bridges may have been look­ing for a dis­trac­tion from bul­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions against MP Mag­gie Barry and a leak of ad­vice sent to MPs’ of­fices on what to say if ap­proached by me­dia.

Both the­o­ries are as crazy as an­other one that emerged ear­lier in the week — that the bul­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions against Barry were be­ing pro­moted by some­one in the Ju­dith Collins camp who sees Barry as a threat in the event of Bridges sur­ren­der­ing the lead­er­ship.

Barry has as much chance of lead­ing Na­tional as Sirocco the ka¯ka¯po¯.

There are two ob­vi­ous rea­sons that dis­prove the the­ory about Bridges pro­vok­ing the Speaker.

The first is that there was not a great show of sol­i­dar­ity.

There was no great aris­ing of mem­bers from their slum­bers to join a mass walk­out.

This is not a cau­cus used to col­lec­tive protest ac­tion. It was a walk-out in batches over a 10-minute pe­riod un­til only five re­mained, to the great amuse­ment of the Govern­ment.

The sec­ond rea­son is that Na­tional had a bunch of ques­tions on sub­jects which are putting some pres­sure on the Govern­ment and which, as Wed­nes­day showed, have vir­tu­ally no im­pact when de­liv­ered in an empty the­atre.

Among the MPs left were Bridges’ lead­er­ship ri­vals back in Fe­bru­ary: Mark Mitchell, who is tak­ing a lead­ing role in the Govern­ment’s abysmal han­dling of the Karel Sroubek case, Ju­dith Collins, al­ways a dan­ger on Ki­wiBuild ques­tions, and Amy Adams, who is find­ing her feet against Grant Robert­son in Fi­nance.

None has ex­hib­ited signs of any­thing but loy­alty to Bridges.

But it is ex­traor­di­nary that a party on 46 per cent in last Sun­day’s 1 News Col­mar Brun­ton poll should be end­ing the year be­ing sub­ject to spec­u­la­tion about who is go­ing to re­place the per­son who got them to 46.

True the poll would have de­liv­ered a Labour and the Green ma­jor­ity Govern­ment, had it been trans­lated to votes, not a Na­tional one.

But a sin­gle point switch in sup­port be­tween the Greens and Labour would have seen the Greens un­der the thresh­old, Labour fall­ing short, and Na­tional be­ing able to gov­ern.

Un­der Sun­day’s poll re­sult, Na­tional was lit­er­ally one point away from hav­ing the num­bers to gov­ern.

That is a stun­ning re­sult for an un­pop­u­lar leader.

Other polls tell a dif­fer­ent story in­clud­ing Na­tional’s own leaked polling by Curia. It is im­pos­si­ble to say one is right and one is wrong, although the Col­mar Brun­ton poll has a rea­son­able record – its last poll be­fore last year’s elec­tion had Na­tional on 46 per cent and Labour on 37 per cent, not too far from the ac­tual re­sult of Na­tional with 44.4 per cent and Labour on 36.9 per cent.

But the po­lit­i­cal death-wish for Bridges is so strong, es­pe­cially among some me­dia, that one col­league de­clared that Na­tional’s 41 per cent in the party-com­mis­sioned poll was the “real” rat­ing, not 46 per cent.

Na­tional was at 46 per cent a year ago un­der Bill English. It is not nec­es­sar­ily an out­lier re­sult.

After he an­nounced he would be step­ping down, Na­tional fell to 43 and Jacinda Ardern’s Labour soared to 48 per cent.

Since then, Na­tional has led Labour all year in Col­mar Brun­ton, ex­cept at the height of the Jami-Lee Ross scan­dal in Oc­to­ber.

Even if the “real” sup­port is some­where be­tween the two poll re­sults, it is close to Na­tional’s elec­tion re­sult.

The no­tion that a party could be polling high while its leader is polling as low as 7 per cent is un­usual, so un­usual there seems to be a move to “cor­rect” it.

If Bridges is fi­nally forced to step down be­fore the 2020 elec­tion, it won’t be be­cause of the large gap be­tween the party and leader but be­cause the cam­paign against him has forced down the party vote.

After a hia­tus, the cam­paign against Bridges has re­sumed.

The lat­est leaks of in­ter­nal polling, ad­vice to MPs, and now pol­icy papers to to­day’s Week­end Her­ald, sug­gest that dis­loyal el­e­ments sur­vive among the staff or cau­cus, even after the ex­pul­sion of Jami-Lee Ross.

It is pos­si­ble that Na­tional has been sub­ject to a hacker rather than a leaker. The dis­tinc­tion is im­por­tant be­cause be­ing hacked means it is a vic­tim and hav­ing a leaker con­notes dis­loy­alty and dis­unity.

But after the last in­quiry, which dragged on and on un­til the dra­matic melt­down by Ross at Par­lia­ment, Bridges is un­likely to take the risk in find­ing out what or who is be­hind the lat­est leaks through an in­quiry.

In that sense the lat­est leaks are more desta­bil­is­ing than the first. With­out know­ing who is be­hind them, the pub­lic is en­ti­tled to as­sume that Bridges is a vic­tim of more dis­loy­alty rather than a crim­i­nal act.

Bridges’ de­fault po­si­tion is to hope that the fire­power of his front bench over­shad­ows the in­ter­nal trou­bles and that the leaks dry up.

He will be pray­ing for a long, hot sum­mer.

The no­tion a party could be polling high while its leader is polling as low as 7 per cent is . . . so un­usual there seems to be a move to ‘cor­rect’ it.

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