Liam Hehir: The authenticity of Simon Bridges

Liam Hehir: The authenticity of Simon Bridges

Simon Bridges may not have exuded authenticity when he was Leader of the Opposition, but his new book, National Identity, is exactly that according to reviewer Liam Hehir. He says “It is not a book about conservatism, but it is an honourably conservative book.”


I had no expectation of being blown away by the sheer literary greatness of Simon Bridges’ book when I started reading it. And I wasn’t. National Interest is not reminiscent of Churchill – it’s not even reminiscent of Barack Obama.

The book is, however, remarkably authentic. This is not a compilation of mawkish sentiments assembled by a committee of ghost writers. The lack of platitudes is really quite something for a work by a sitting politician.

You can tell that Simon Bridges wrote it himself because his voice can be heard quite distinctly on each page. That will not be to everybody’s liking, of course. We all know how the well-fed left have always loved to mock him for being insufficiently plummy of diction.

Nevertheless, the author is to be commended for doing the reader the service of being honest and forthright in his views on matters from race and ethnicity to education and the natural environment.

He is not high-handed or judgmental when he does this. He does not belittle others who think differently. But he gives you his position in a way that leaves you in no doubt that he is telling you the truth.

The golden thread of National Identity is the importance Bridges clearly places on being true to himself. He talks about his whakapapa but makes clear that this is a journey for his benefit, not a performance for others. He is candid about the role of faith in his life which is clearly something quite real for him.

Not that he is a complete puritan. Various passages on the difficulties that he faced as a young Maori man from West Auckland will ring true for anybody who has had to start out without the benefit of connections to the very small, but very real, elite in this country. Even then, however, he is honest about the acts he had to adopt to survive and then thrive in the snobby and rarefied culture of the law.

This frankness and honesty has, in fact, been one of Bridges’ biggest liabilities as a political leader. He is regarded as prone to over sharing and that has got him into trouble in the past. This book overflows with details that not everybody would feel confident enough to put out there.

While that’s always going to be a risk the upshot is that, if nothing else, Bridges can be a disarmingly genuine and real politician. That often didn’t come through when he was leader. This book, however, showcases that very relatable side of his personality.

The cover of the book bears the legend “NOT A POLITICAL MEMOIR” and the contents are not structured around the narrative of his political career. This is not a manifesto. Yet because he is known to the public as a politician, any book of this nature was always going to have a political dimension.

Here, Bridges is at his best when it comes to education. There is a whole chapter on the subject and he makes a compelling case about the lost opportunities for upward mobility that come with declining standards and the loss of rigour in the school system. You can tell he cares about this stuff and I feel quite reinforced in my view that he would have made a terrific education spokesman and minister.

Bridges is thoroughly within the mainstream of political conservatism in this country and anybody wanting to get a better understanding of that segment of the electorate would do well to read his book. It is not a book about conservatism, but it is an honourably conservative book.

The first two lines of National Interest declares: “I love New Zealand. I love it more than anywhere else because it’s mine, the place of my forbears and its descendants.”

GK Chesterton would have approved. “Men did not love Rome because she was great,” he once wrote, “She was great because they had loved her.”

True patriotism lies not in loving one’s home because of any special feature or condition but simply because it is your home. National Interest makes clear that Simon Bridges really is a patriot at heart. An authentic one.


“National Identity: Confessions of an outsider” by Simon Bridges is published by HaperCollins.


Liam Hehir lives in the small Manawatu village of Rongotea. He has been a conservative columnist since 2013. He is a practising Catholic and sympathises with the aims of the National Party, for which he formerly volunteered in a variety of low-level roles.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.