Mind the gap, Simon Bridges
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110532115/-

2019-02-13 04:53:36

EDITORIAL: Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke of an elephant in the room.

She was addressing an audience of prominent business people and industry leaders, attempting to convince them that   doubts about business confidence had either diminished or simply left the building.

It appears she needn't have worried: the elephant has shuffled off to take up residence in the National Party's caucus room. It won't be moving any time soon.

Conventional wisdom stated that Simon Bridges would be safe as long as National maintained an advantage over Labour in popularity that matched its numerical edge in opposition.

The latest Newshub-Reid poll will test that notion, and no doubt National's patience for a leader who looks to be wasting that advantage in the House.

The public simply haven't taken to the idea of him leading the country; the latest poll, in which he dropped 3.9 points to 5 per cent as preferred prime minister, suggests they never will.

That's despite numerous missteps by this Labour coalition government, including the lack of building in KiwiBuild and the dearth of common sense in the Karel​ Sroubek​ farce.

What's a party to do? The Ardern glow remains in full effect and Bridges has struggled with how to undermine the relentless positivity and historic significance of a young mum at the head of the Household.

Surely, in this tricky, divisive era of changing gender politics, only a woman can tell another woman to zip it, sweetie, and get away with it.

That might suggest deputy leader Paula Bennett is set to benefit, but in the wake of the poll showing colleague Judith Collins surpassing her own leader in popularity, the former was too busy praising the latter to speak of her own ambitions.

This is but one poll, and no time to panic, but according to that poll Labour has moved significantly ahead of National.

If such a gap is confirmed in another survey, then surely time will be up for Bridges.

The next election is possibly 18 months away; National, without any political dance partners at this stage, would have to concede that losing is a growing possibility against an increasingly popular Government.

But there's losing, and then there's losing: if National is not the ruling party it will still want to be the motivated, sizeable opposition party to run the rule over the winner. To maintain a strong momentum and relevance. To set the platform for a push over the top in 2023.

This latest poll puts that at risk, and many in National will be pondering the large, unwelcome guest sitting awkwardly within their caucus: just as Labour's popularity appears to be driven by that of its leader, is National's now riding the receding tide of support for its principal?

Collins might not be the leader National wants, but she just might be the one it needs right now, especially if the intention is to keep the Government on its toes, and the numbers close.

She might not be able to move mountains: at the moment the election appears to be Labour's to lose. But Collins might at least be able to move the elephant.

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