Liam Hehir: The many deaths of Simon Bridges

Liam Hehir: The many deaths of Simon Bridges

The received wisdom is that the Covid-19 pandemic has ensured that Simon Bridges will never be prime minister. In fact, according to some he will be lucky to make it to the election as National Party leader. And maybe this is true.

After all, the media attention on government action in times of trouble usually helps incumbents. Just ask Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, who have seen surges in their polling as the result of the crisis. The idea that Jacinda Ardern won’t get a boost is hard to believe and that’s not a good thing for Bridges.

On the other hand, the track record of New Zealand’s political prognosticators on the career of Simon Bridges has not been great. That’s putting it mildly. Shall we review?

The nativity of the prime minister’s baby

In June 2018, Jacinda Ardern gave birth to a child. This was a notable event and earned the prime minister the open admiration of the media. There was wall-to-wall congratulatory coverage of the royal birth which was more or less hailed as the most significant natal event since the birth of Our Lord all those years ago.

In response, Simon Bridges gave an awkward interview where he was directly asked if he hated the baby and tried to respond with a bit of humour. That earned him the condemnations of the rejoicing press corps and his goose was pronounced well and truly cooked. How could he still realistically aspire to the prime ministership in the wake of these events?

The always promised coups

But life went on and things remained as they were. The polls didn’t have National in the lead exactly, but they were just a few points short of it. The baby wasn’t the harbinger of Simon Bridges’ political death that many pundits had willed it to be.

But then Bridges became imperilled by a new phantom menace, the always predicted Judith Collins coup. Beginning around August 2018, we were subjected to constant predictions by the oracles of the press about a “leadership spill” being just around the corner. In fact, for about a year it seemed that Simon Bridges was about to be rolled tomorrow.

But, of course, tomorrow never comes.

Jami-Lee Ross self-immolates

Despite these persistent and wrong claims, the political polling remained consistent. National was (usually) the largest party with Labour in close behind and the Greens and NZ First on the edge of oblivion. In other words, the election remained on a knife edge.

Then there was the Jami-Lee Ross debacle. Close enough to Bridges to have run the numbers for his leadership bid, Ross became rabid. The leader of the opposition was accused of involvement in corrupt acts in a series of media events that ended up with Ross laying a complaint with the police in dramatic fashion.

Of course, the evidence presented by Ross was flimsy at best. Bridges was never charged with anything and in fact it is now his accuser who finds himself in the dock. But mud sticks, the prognosticators pointed out, and Bridges leadership was now hanging by a thread.

The ides of March attacks

Ross laid his complaint on 17 October 2018. The following month, 1News published a political poll showing that National and ACT would have a one seat majority if an election was then held. Is it possible that there a disconnect between political commentators and voters?

The forecasting of Simon Bridges imminent demise was put on hold for a while after New Zealand suffered its darkest day on 15 March 2019. But only for a while. It didn’t take too long before the elevation of Jacinda Ardern to international fame on the back of a strong performance had journalists and commentators solemnly pronouncing this was the final nail in the coffin for Simon Bridges, to varying degrees of decorum and good taste.

And Labour did get a boost in the wake of those terrible events. For a few months. And then things reset. Seven of the last ten public polls had National winning the most votes. The last three had National winning the election.

And there has been no hint of a leadership change.

Maybe this time will be the time

Who knows what the political outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic and any attendant economic depression will be? Maybe Labour will power ahead and Bridges will be vanquished. It’s possible!

The one thing that is certain is that if it does eventuate, the response of political commentators will be: “I told you this was going to happen.”


Photo: Schwede66 / CC BY-SA