16 Mar 2022

Departing Simon Bridges believes National can win 2023 election

10:25 am on 16 March 2022

Recent political retiree and former leader of the opposition Simon Bridges thinks National could pull off winning the next election.

Christopher Luxon and Simon Bridges

Simon Bridges and Christopher Luxon in Parliament. File photo Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The frontbench MP and former leader announced his retirement yesterday, triggering a by-election in the Tauranga electorate that he has represented since 2008.

Bridges told Morning Report he expected next year's election to be neck and neck.

He said the latest political poll, which put National ahead of Labour, reaffirmed his decision that it was the right time to leave politics.

"I have a sense of satisfaction and dare I say pride that I've been a significant part in helping National to rebuild to get momentum and the signs are it's going to be a very competitive election in 2023."

He believed a global recession was very likely and said that would put National in a very strong position, as New Zealanders traditionally trusted the party's economic policies over Labour's.

In the wake of his retirement from politics, Bridges said he was interested in taking on projects in the media space, hinting at his passion for political commentary.

Taking charge of National's future, party leader Christopher Luxon said losing MP Simon Bridges would be a big loss for the party.

Luxon told Morning Report he tried unsuccessfully to convince Bridges to stay on.

"I sort of tried to convince him otherwise, because I think he's been doing a great job."

"He's going to be a big loss for us. He's been a tremendous champion for Tauranga. He was a very good senior minister, and he's been a great leader of National Party."

Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon. File photo Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He said he was confident his party had the economic leadership expected of it.

Luxon said Bridges' departure did not reflect any rift within the party.

"This is a united caucus, you don't have to worry about that ... we have turned that page, we are very focused on the cost of living crisis [and] we're focused on the economy going forward."

Luxon announced this morning that deputy-leader Nicola Willis will takeover as National's new finance spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Corporate Tauranga is ruing the departure of Simon Bridges from the political scene.

The local MP has been seen as a dependable ally of the local businesses. At a national level, Bridges was seen by many as taking a muscular business line on issues such as the government's three waters reforms.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Crowley told Morning Report that Bridges had been a brave advocate for the city's commercial interests.

Crowley said the issues of inflation and Covid-19 would likely be the crux of any successful campaign.

He said Labour list MP Jan Tinetti was one name that had been thrown into the hat for the Tauranga by-election but National's succession plan was less clear.

"Who knows whether [the] National Party has got some good succession planning or not, no one's name really comes to mind," Crowley said.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had been tipped to join the race and Crowley said he could turn the by-election into a three-horse race.

"He resonates, that sort of maverick mentality kind of resonates there.

"In Tauranga we rally in times of need but we also don't like being told what to do so someone like Winston Peters might actually do quite well there and start splitting National's votes," Crowley said.

Shane Te Pou in Party People

Political commentator Shane Te Pou. File photo Photo: Supplied / Aotearoa Media Collective

Political commentator Shane Te Pou told Morning Report Bridges' political career made history for Māori and believed he would receive more credit for his feat in the future.

"History is his, he was the first Māori leader of a major political party. He'll be very typical of most folks that didn't get the top job, he'll relect on the fact that he wasn't the Prime Minister of Aotearoa but you know our people are very forgiving, they will look on him well."

The Tauranga by-election would also be a tough task for all parties with cost of living and Covid recovery likely to be the issues of significance, Te Pou said.

In particular, he said Labour's candidate was likely to face significant opposition due to a strong presence of anti-mandate attitudes in the area.

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