National's next leaders: Lining up the contenders

2:55 pm on 15 February 2018

Power Play - Phones will be running hot in the National Party, now the three main contenders for the leadership have shown their hand.

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Photo: RNZ

The three former lawyers and Cabinet ministers launched their bids yesterday, just a day after Bill English announced his impending resignation.

Three others are weighing up their options, but of those Mark Mitchell is the most likely to enter the race. He is only interested in the position of leader, not deputy; for him this contest would be as much about raising his public profile than the likelihood of taking the top job.

The fast-talking, fast-thinking Amy Adams made a dramatic statement with her launch, marching across the parliamentary forecourt with four MPs in support.

There is no doubt Ms Adams is smart, with the capacity to take on difficult and complex portfolios, duties she carried out well under both John Key and Bill English.

She is touting herself as a leader to represent both urban and rural New Zealand.

A lower public profile than the other two could work in her favour, with the focus on the 'new generation' leader in this race. She is socially liberal but economically describes herself as being in "core, heartland National territory".

She is not "scared of Judith Collins", whom she described as a strong MP and government minister. But Ms Adams adds the party needs someone to lead the next government, not "the next opposition".

Simon Bridges is affable, smart and if elected would be the first Māori leader of the National Party.

But he was reluctant to talk in any detail about policy, including any particular issue facing Māori, when offered the opportunity by Morning Report's Guyon Espiner.

His use of the third person during his media conference - "I'm focused on Simon Bridges" - made him the object of some ribbing, but he is popular within the caucus and has a robust sense of humour.

As the 'new generation' candidate (despite senior MP Steven Joyce pointing out there's only a 15-year span across the confirmed and potential contenders) Mr Bridges will give voice to the backbench, the part of the caucus that has the power of the numbers this term.

With a glint in her eye, Judith Collins is relishing the freedom of the leadership race.

On Amy Adams and her posse of MPs: "If someone wants to turn up with four people that's fine, but it's going to take a lot more than four to win."

She is also not afraid of going up against Jacinda Ardern, who will be juggling the role of Prime Minister and a new baby.

"If anyone wants to talk to mothers, and working mums - boy can I do that", said Ms Collins after raising a child while running a law firm and studying.

She is happy to critique her party's handling of election strategy, with National having "won battles all over the country" but ultimately "losing the war".

Ms Collins said National erred when Bill English encouraged voters to "cut out the middle man", in an attempt to marginalise New Zealand First.

She is unashamedly wooing the large number of backbenchers with her promise to bring new people up through the ranks.

Her tough talk may appeal to the new, hungry members of the caucus, and there is no love lost between Ms Collins and some of the more senior MPs.

On 27 February it will be up to the caucus to vote in a new leader.

In this contest there may have to be a second round of voting if none of the candidates gets that majority vote, with the third place getter dropping out, and MPs then having to vote between the top two.