Barely had Simon Bridges been announced as the new leader of the National Party and also Leader of the Opposition than he was attacking Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on regional development. But who is Simon Joseph Bridges?
Mr Bridges entered Parliament in the 2008 intake along with Ms Ardern. She was from Morrinsville where her father was a police officer. He was a Te Atatu lad who went to Rutherford High and was Head Boy. One became an urbanite, living in Mt Albert whilst the other became M.P. for Tauranga, after the controversial Bob Clarkson left at the end of the 2005-2008 term of Parliament.
Mr Bridges, by his own admission is a social conservative, who initially opposed same sex marriage, though admits now he would probably change his vote having seen how it works. Prior to entering Parliament he was a Crown Prosecutor who mainly worked on jury trials. He has three children and is married to Natalie Bridges.
During his time in the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, Mr Bridges held the Energy and Resources portfolio. Whilst holding this portfolio he controversially sponsored a Bill of Parliament that effectively criminalized peaceful protest on the high seas, which numerous N.G.O.’s including Amnesty International and Greenpeace, along with high profile lawyers such as Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who was formerly Prime Minister in 1989. Mr Bridges also held the Transport portfolio and was known for his support of National’s Roads of National Significance policy, which had a heavy focus on highways.
When former Prime Minister John Key resigned in 2016 Mr Bridges stood as one of the contenders to replace him. With Mr English now gone, Mr Bridges appointment as Leader of National and Leader of the Opposition signal the end of the John Key-Bill English dream team that saw National win three consecutive elections with levels of support never seen prior in an M.M.P. environment.
The challenges Mr Bridges face are significant. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has yet to put a major foot wrong and her popularity is climbing along with support for Labour, which is enjoying its highest poll ratings since the 2002 election where Labour won 52 seats and National slumped to an all time low of just 27. Labour has not yet had time to do much and the voting public acknowledge this. Because of that, Mr Bridges could find himself struggling to gain traction in the first term.
So, I welcome Mr Bridges as Leader of the Opposition/Leader of the National Party. It could however be a lonely few years trying to contain one of New Zealand’s most progressive Prime Ministers in decades.