Politics

Todd Muller resigns as National leader

After a torrid two months in the job, National leader Todd Muller has stepped aside

National leader Todd Muller has resigned from the role just under two months after deposing Simon Bridges, citing the heavy toll the job has taken on him and his family.

In a brief statement, Muller said he had taken time over the weekend "to reflect on my experience over the last several weeks as Leader of the Opposition".

"It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand. 

"It is more important than ever that the New Zealand National Party has a leader who is comfortable in the role.

"The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective.

For that reason I will be stepping down as leader effective immediately."

Muller said he intended to take time out of the spotlight to spend time with his family and restore his energy, and would continue to serve as a National Party member and MP for the Bay of Plenty.

He said he would not be making any further comment, and asked the media to respect his and his family's privacy.

In a statement responding to Muller's resignation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "No matter what side of Parliament you’re sitting, politics is a difficult place. I have passed on my best wishes to Mr Muller and his family."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters also offered his sympathies, saying Muller was a "good man" who would bounce back.

"Leading a divided and incompetent caucus would have tested even the best leader. The National caucus now has the unenviable job of selecting its fourth leader since the coalition government took office."

Peters claimed National had demonstrated it could not govern itself, and said voters had to focus on which parties had demonstrated stability and experience to guide New Zealand through its current challenges.

Todd Muller resignation letter

Muller took over as National leader on May 22, after Bridges flushed out leadership rumblings and held an urgent caucus meeting which ended badly for him.

The new leader endured a difficult first week in the job, including a mini-scandal over his decision to display a Make America Great Again hat in his office and more significant questions about the whiteness of his front bench - capped by deputy leader Nikki Kaye mistakenly labelling finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith as being of Māori heritage.

Muller also appeared to struggle during media interviews, attracting negative coverage for his stumbles, while senior National MPs Paula Bennett (Bridges' former deputy) and Anne Tolley both announced their retirements.

He appeared to recover his footing somewhat as the Government faced questions over its handling of Covid-19 border measures and isolation facilities, putting Ardern and her ministers under pressure over their perceived failures.

But there was a twist in the tale, as National's Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker resigned after admitting to leaking the private information of Covid-19 patients to media in a bid to rebut allegations of racism made against him.

Muller faced questions over the slowness of his initial response, although he eventually called for National's board to suspend Walker.

Then he was pressed on what he and other MPs knew about the affair, after former National Party president Michelle Boag - the source of Walker's leak - admitted she had also sent patient information to health spokesman Michael Woodhouse (which he did not use).

Muller had earlier dismissed suggestions Boag may have sent information to other National MPs, leading some to question whether he had misled the public.

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