Reshuffle will show Bridges' commitment to renewal

5:35 pm on 27 February 2018

Power Play - National has its "new generation" leader in Simon Bridges but in reality how different will the party look under his leadership?

The new National Party leader Simon Bridges in Parliament right after the announcement he had clinched the top spot.

The new National Party leader Simon Bridges in Parliament right after the announcement he had clinched the top spot. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King;

The 41-year-old is the first Māori MP to lead the National Party. And while now the MP for Tauranga, he declares himself to be a "proud Westie" having grown up in Te Atatu North in Auckland.

But he shares similarities with his predecessor Bill English including being brought up in a religious household, and those beliefs helping to shape some of his political actions as a social conservative.

Mr Bridges said there were some areas of policy where the party might take a different focus, but its broad approach was sound.

His attack on Labour will be on immigration, industrial relations and regional development - the government's approach, Mr Bridges said, would slow the economy Labour inherited from National.

New National Party leader, Simon Bridges and Deputy Paula Bennett

Mr Bridges and his deputy, Paula Bennett Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

He has already floated the idea of a relationship with the Greens as long as they were a "pure environmental" party that was not focused on the "bits and bobs" - presumably the social issues that became such a focus of the former co-leader Metiria Turei.

It's a clear attempt to cut out New Zealand First, but one that may be met with some bemusement in Green circles given Mr Bridges' enthusiastic support for mining rights as Energy Minister.

Another policy he became infamous for was the promise to replace 10 bridges in Northland during the doomed by-election in 2015 which National lost to New Zealand First.

But he is a scrapper, landing a major blow against Labour in its first weeks in government, and going up against John Campbell in "that" interview.

As a potential leader though, his big pitch was to the large number of National Party backbenchers, chafing under the tightly-run caucus under John Key and then Bill English, and wanting a greater voice and influence.

The reshuffle will show whether he will deliver his promise of renewal to those MPs. He has also signalled the senior MPs who formed the front bench under the previous two leaders will remain in positions of influence, including his rivals in the leadership race.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in The House

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the House today. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Paula Bennett will remain deputy after being challenged by Judith Collins in the secret ballot.

Mark Mitchell withdrew his nomination on the caucus floor, saying he realised he did not have the numbers, and wanted the leader to be elected in a one or two round vote, not to be in the weakened position of having to go through several.

Amy Adams could well be looking at the influential finance role; Judith Collins and Steven Joyce are also likely to be given senior positions in the new caucus.

The danger for Mr Bridges is that if the polling starts to slip, MPs may start to get restless again, as the 2020 election - up against Jacinda Ardern - draws nearer.

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