Bridges straightens his tie, and marches on

Simon Bridges was wearing one of his favourite ties as he strode confidently out of the caucus room after being crowned the new leader of the opposition.

It was a smart, knitted blue number, but it would be replaced on his way to address the media after a sly word from fellow westie Paula Bennett.

“That was a tie I liked, a knitted tie but frankly I’d never worn it before and it was a bit hard to do and people thought I’d done it too short so I just changed it to this one,” Bridges said.

“That was the first constructive feedback from the deputy leader of the National Party.”

Wardrobe crisis averted, Bridges headed towards Parliament’s legislative chamber - the same room where another young leader named Jacinda Ardern delivered a circuit breaker of an address leading up to last year’s election.

The Tauranga MP gave a solid-enough performance, but perhaps highlighting the difficulty of the task ahead of him the press conference was somewhat a fizzer.

That’s not to say the Tauranga MP performed badly. He didn’t stumble while answering questions and was enthusiastic and largely confident in laying out why he thought the Government was performing poorly.

The atmosphere was, simply, a bit flat.

Bridges repeatedly pulled his hand in and out of his pocket before, almost abruptly, ending the questioning and striding out of the room with his wife.

Of course, all press conferences have to end sometime and politicians are busy people but the affair had a slightly forced air.

These set piece performances are important, as Ardern could well tell you.

Her first press conference after becoming Labour Party leader in August was near flawless, a commanding and poised display that set the groundwork for her rise to Prime Minister.

It’s a high bar to reach, and perhaps slightly unfair to expect Bridges to meet it, but the reality is that he will be up against Ardern and her ever-rising political and public capital every day in what many see as an impossible task.

The pair went tit-for-tat just minutes after the announcement during question time with both scoring hits, Bridges questioning the accountability of the Government’s regional fund and Ardern accusing National of neglecting Northland.

Bridges’ relatively young age and wide smile may gain him some initial traction, but the party’s longer-term success will largely depend on how seriously the public take him and how united he can keep his caucus.

Simon Bridges smiles as he sits next to Paula Bennett during his first question time as Opposition leader. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Everybody wants something

It has been a rather genteel two weeks of campaigning for the National party leadership, at least publicly.

In the preceding days, Bridges emerged as the clear frontrunner alongside Amy Adams although Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell were seen to have run strong campaigns and Steven Joyce likely shored up his senior role in the party by putting his name forward.

The morning of the vote got off to an inauspicious start with the media gathered like flies around the door to National’s offices only to find them “blued out” with paper to block their view.

Annoyed members of the press gallery began angrily tweeting, but in reality it was an unimportant sideshow to the leadership decision.

It took Bridges two ballots to gain a majority, meaning he wasn't first choice for the majority of his MPs, but now that decision has been made, a perhaps more fascinating process will begin as the new shape of the caucus is moulded.

It will be a difficult task for Bridges to keep everyone happy.

He has promised a fresh approach and the promotion of new talent while keeping the experience and “heft” of senior politicians.

Collins and Adams will be expecting top roles while Mitchell will be hoping for a front bench promotion after his performance and Joyce will be hoping for a main role as well, even if he loses his current Finance portfolio.

Ensuring the party’s different factions are balanced will be tricky and some will miss out, a fact Bridges accepts.

“Look, at the margins [some will miss out] but I’ll make clear it’s about keeping and retaining experience and bringing through new talent and obviously people will get to judge that in the reshuffle.”

Judge they will, and Bridges will be hoping he has made enough friends to keep his favourite tie from turning into a noose around his neck.

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