30 Nov 2021

National Party caucus arrives for leadership decision

3:12 pm on 30 November 2021

Former National Party leader Simon Bridges, who is again contesting the leadership, is feeling "really good" heading into today's caucus decision.

National MPs are arriving at Parliament today, ahead of the leadership vote in a caucus meeting starting at 3pm.

The party's leadership was catapulted in chaos after then-leader Judith Collins summarily demoted Simon Bridges last week.

Shellshocked, MPs went into a hastily called caucus the next morning and cast a vote of no confidence in her. Deputy Shane Reti became interim leader and the vote for leader was set down for today.

Today's contest appears to be a showdown between Bridges and political novice Chris Luxon, who seems to have an edge in support from the caucus.

Bridges, arriving at Wellington Airport this morning, had a positive attitude despite the ructions of last week and most pundits giving Luxon the edge.

"Really good, I think it's gonna be a good day, a good day for the National Party," he said.

"That's because I think we'll draw a line under the past, be able to really take a government focus on what matters to New Zealanders and the solutions that are required and I think win the next election.

"So I feel really good about today."

Rotorua MP Todd McClay was also positive about the day, despite the gloomy, drizzly weather in the capital.

"I think it's a great day to select a new leader for the National Party ... the one thing we've heard from our members is they want us to be united as a caucus. Really good conversations over the weekend and I think we're going to come out with a great result today.

"Not worried about anything, the National Party will make the right decision today, the caucus is really focused. We know the important job is to focus on what the government's doing."

He said his message to the incoming leader would be that "the caucus will be behind that person".

National MPs Simon Bridges and Chris Luxon.

National MPs Simon Bridges and Chris Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Nicola Willis, whose name has been tossed around as a potential deputy leader, was also keeping quiet.

"Out of respect for my colleagues and the process we're in I won't be making any comment.

"Today's gonna be a good day for National ... that's all I've got to say."

She had a strong message for the leadership, whoever that might be.

"Unite this team, we're gonna be great, let's beat Jacinda Ardern."

Louise Upston said it was obvious why a united team was needed, and there was "no risk" of a split.

"We've got incredible talent in our caucus and I know that there's some great opportunities to focus on the stuff that matters to New Zealanders.

"We've got a great caucus, we've got very talented individuals and we know that our focus is New Zealanders and what matters."

Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse was not revealing who he might support.

"We don't talk about what goes on in the caucus room ... we'll just see what the options are ... that'll be for the collective wisdom of the caucus to decide," he said.

He said he was sure it would be a good day and "follow the usual script".

"It is important that we get back to focusing on the things that matter to New Zealanders so we'll get through this today and I look forward to doing just that."

Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger said caucus unity behind one leader was crucial, and the party was "absolutely" capable of doing that.

"It's critical. We've had a terrible year and a half and this is our opportunity to get it right.

"We've got an election to win in 2023 and I'm confident that we can do that ... with anyone that we choose today it will be achievable. We will be on track for 2023."

She was keen for the party to put the past week behind it.

"I'm worried about what happened last week. That wasn't where we needed to be and I'm sure this afternoon that we'll come out with a decision that works us into a good place whoever wins.

"I hope everybody uses this as an opportunity to pick up their game - everyone - and that's where I sit, because you know there's so much we need to deal with right now that the government's doing that we can't afford any more games, and I'm not tolerant of games."

She kept quiet about who she would support, but said it would be a "genuine contest".

List MP Harete Hipango said today's result would be a "reset and a refresh", but would not say if that meant Luxon.

"I would like to see the best people because it's not just about the leader ... it's about the deputy and it's about the caucus as a whole. Who would I like? I would like what's going to be best for the National Party but also importantly for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Waikato MP Tim van de Molen was complimentary of both the main candidates for leader.

"We have a fantastic array of talent in National as you well know, they're both top-quality gents doing a fantastic job and I'm looking forward to having a resolution to this later today.

"Of course we've got to have one person leading the party. There's an important job for us to do and at the moment there have been some concerns around how the government's performing. We need to be in a better place to capitalise on that for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

"Everyone in our team brings a lot to the table and I'm looking forward to working with them all."

Southland MP Joseph Mooney was also equivocal.

"We've got something really valuable in our caucus room, we've got a real diversity of life experience and diversity of thought and new and experienced politicians. I think we've two fantastic candidates," he said.

Asked if Simon Bridges brought too much baggage, Mooney merely laughed before walking away.

Stuart Smith said he was feeling "good, very good actually" about the upcoming meeting.

He said he had spoken to both Luxon and Bridges.

He was not concerned either about Luxon's lack of political experience

"He managed to run an airline fairly well. I think there are similarities, not the same but I think it's just people management. And that's what he's very good at.

Nor was Bridges' history a concern.

"We've all got baggage ... we're very fortunate to have two strong candidates. Labour in a very unfortunate position they've only got one."

He would make his decision in caucus, "and you may never find out".

He said Collins still had a place in the National Party, and whether she remained would be a decision for her and the people of Papakura.

"Look, she made her decision, she went along a path that she chose, it's up to her, she made the decision with the information that she had and it's past history so there's not much point looking back."

"I think that she's a very valuable member of the National Party and will remain so."

Luxon had not yet made an appearance at Parliament.

Speaking from Hamilton, where she was supporting vaccination efforts, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed indifference.

"I've been up against four different leaders of the National Party. Regardless of the change in leadership with the opposition, my focus remains the same - navigating New Zealand through this incredibly tough period of a pandemic and the economic impacts of it.

"My message to whoever takes on the mantle is: 'Remember how important it is to focus on the things that New Zealand wants us focused on."

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