Spending saga turns to political capital for Bridges

by Dr. Bryce Edwards*

National party leader Simon Bridges.

National party leader Simon Bridges.
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

When the leak about the parliamentary issues of Simon Bridges first appeared, it seemed a little distraction. However, it soon became the first real test of his courage as leader of the national party.

For every new leader, the most important issues are their public popularity, but also their ability to demand respect and loyalty from their caucus. The leakage of his expenses was relatively small in itself. The information would be released in a few days.

The most important point was always whether Mr Bridges had already been attacked from within and was being undermined by his own MPs. Of course, we only have to look over the Tasman to see how secret or explicit infidelity can escalate to mutiny on a real scale.

After first cracking the leak, Mr Bridges had to show some determination and publicly demand that the leaker was found, even though it was always likely that it came from his own caucus.

In demanding an investigation Mr Bridges took the risk that the leak could be reduced to a senior colleague or several MPs – which would have led to continued speculation about how safe he was as a leader, and that would be extremely destabilizing.

It may be that Mr Bridges had a pretty good idea of ​​who it could be and that is why his request for an investigation was a more calculated risk. At least he called their bluff and within a day the leaker begged for mercy and supported him downstairs.

This played right in the hands of Mr Bridges. Instead of looking weak, it has been shown that he has some determination and looks at an unfaithful member of parliament, staff member or someone in the vicinity of a caucus.

The texts have also worked to his advantage by suggesting that the leak was the work of a single and isolated MP or employee, rather than an organized and coordinated strategy to undermine his leadership.

Mr. Bridges has also been able to show his responsible and humane side by carefully consulting with mental health professionals and the police to ensure that the leaker is unlikely to be harmed if the study were to be continued.

There may even be some degree of public sympathy for what Bridges had to endure – an unfaithful, and perhaps unstable, national partisan who plotted against him.

Now that Parliament President Trevor Mallard has canceled the investigation himself, he is free to decide whether it is in his own political interest to continue an internal investigation. He can reasonably choose any course without too much criticism.

Any national MP who would have been tempted to use strategic leaks in the future to undermine Mr Bridges will think again.

* Dr. Bryce Edwards is a Victoria University of Wellington academic whose principal research areas are political parties, elections and parliament.

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