Simon Bridges, Judith Collins mount National Party leadership bids

The race for the National leadership is turning into a race to show who can beat Jacinda Ardern, with three senior MPs throwing their hat in the ring to be the next leader.

Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins have publicly mounted their campaigns, each pitching themselves as the only one who could drill beyond the personality of the new Prime Minister, and deliver a party with a plan in 2020.

English gave his two weeks notice on Tuesday, his bombshell retirement from politics setting off a two-week leadership contest. The final announcement from Adams on Wednesday signalled a tough contest between three senior personalities. A few more names are yet to confirm whether they would bid to replace English. 

All three MPs announced their bids in different ways, Collins with a tweet, Bridges with an executive-style press conference and Adams was the third, choosing a support power play by stepping up to mics flanked by a guard of colleagues. 

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All three have mounted forceful cases for why they should lead the National Party, and consensus appears to be forming that the party needs to put up a strong Opposition but present itself as a "Government in waiting" - one with a plan. 

Where they may differ is on the plan, but policy-wise all three kept their cards close to their chest.

Adams, publicly backed by Nikki Kaye, Chris Bishop, Maggie Barry and Tim McIndoe, she said she would be a socially liberal, economically conservative leader of the National Party, and a "straight shooter" that had rural and urban appeal.

"We've spent two days in Tauranga over the weekend going over how we want to position ourselves, some of the policy changes we want to make and strategy into 2020, and I don't think it's right or appropriate for me to play that all out here. If I'm selected as leader I'll have more to say on that. 

"But what I can say is that I strongly believe that you have to have that blend of sensible fiscal management, strong economic growth that is the hallmark of a National Government. 

"But equally, New Zealand needs to know that that economic growth is for a purpose. And that is to make more opportunities available for every New Zealander and that is a message that I want to take to New Zealand," Adams said. 

Bridges threw his hat in the ring earlier in the day. He was also confident he had strong support from the number of caucus colleagues who had approached him to run, although he would not reveal names, and no caucus colleagues were present for his announcement. 

The MP for Tauranga said he offered the "right blend of generational change" and experience. Bridges was 41 and had a young family, but also had experience with big portfolios, formerly as a minister, and now in Opposition.

He indicated he would lead the party on some directional change but it would continue its centre-right approach of pragmatism - despite him being considered by some to be a more conservative candidate. He said he would actively "stake out positions" as leader. 

"I think in that regard if you look at the Labour Opposition, they were there for nine years. I don't think they did the work to have a strong agenda, to have a strong plan to lead this country and we're getting there now. 

"I don't want to make that mistake, I want to make sure that yes we're opposing the things that need to be opposed, but we're also not throwing away our values but looking to evolve ourselves so we're moving with the times in 2020."

Collins made her announcement to contest the leadership on Twitter on Wednesday morning. She said she had a plan to get 61 seats at the 2020 election and was the only one who could bring the necessary partners to the table. 

"That is something I don't think anyone else can deliver from this particular place in Opposition," she said.

She called Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern "a very formidable performer" and has been underestimated by people in the past.

"I think we cannot win unless we have a very different persona from Jacinda Ardern's and that we have a very different and clear set of policies that are not just Labour lite".

In that regard, her leadership would likely herald a swing further to the right than that of Bridges, but Collins said a point of difference was needed and "I am the one who can do that". 

Both Bridges and Adams reaffirmed their support for current deputy Paula Bennett who has said she would not be vacating the role. And all three made efforts for a cordial race by acknowledging the talents of their competitors. 

Bridges and Adams have been touted as early frontrunners, with Bridges said to have done the work with a large amount of backbenchers while Adams is said to have more frontbench support. Collins, while polarising, has the highest profile of the three and is understood to have some support as well. 

Bennett ruled herself out for the top job on Wednesday morning, but said she would like to stay on as deputy. Kaye, who many expected to put her name forward, confirmed she would not be running "in any way, shape or form" before putting her backing behind Adams.

A number of other names had been speculated to join the ring. When asked whether he would be running for leader, or deputy leader, former health minister Jonathan Coleman said "I'm not ruling anything in or out at this stage".

He did say he believed he had the necessary skills to be leader of the Opposition. However, the overriding consideration was to have National Party leadership in 2020, so the party needed someone who could lead the party to that point, and win the next election.

Coleman said in an ideal world there would be a clear consensus candidate. However it's understood the race may not see any early withdrawals, pushing the party to take a vote. 

"But the caucus always has the right to have that vote. And sometimes it's better to have that vote right at the start and clear the air, rather than go through a cycle of people as Labour did," said Coleman.

While backbench MPs were currently being courted, many were still keeping their cards close to their chest on who they backed to be the next leader.


National chief party whip Jamie-Lee Ross said he would not be commenting on the leadership race or be publicly expressing support for any runners, as he was in charge of the official process.

There was no process written into the party's constitution so it would be decided by the caucus. It was likely to be held over the course of the next two weeks. 

In National's last runoff, following the resignation of John Key, English eventually took the mantle without a vote when it became apparent he had the numbers anyway. 

Wildcard and Former Defence Minister Mark Mitchell said he was still actively considering running, as did the party's finance spokesman Steven Joyce. 

 - Stuff