Election 2020: National’s Tauranga MP Simon Bridges answers leadership question and reveals priorities

“I’m in still in mourning,” a National supporter said to Simon Bridges as she drove past in Fergusson Park.

The Tauranga MP has won a fifth term in the electorate seat, but it was a rare bright spot in an otherwise grim night for the National Party, which he joined at 16.

Preliminary results have the 44-year-old former Crown prosecutor taking the seat with a margin of 2433 votes over Labour’s Jan Tinetti. It was a far cry from the just over 11,000 vote gulf between them three years ago.

Adding insult to injury, Labour also won most of the party votes in Tauranga – 41 per cent to National’s 33.8 per cent – in a seat where National has taken more than half for the past three elections.

Bridges spent a solemn night with wife Natalie, their three children, and supporters at the Tauranga Golf Club.

Bridges, who was ousted as National leader in May, surprised some by publicly criticising the party’s campaign strategy, saying it left candidates unclear about what they should be doing. He said, however, he did not want the leadership job back.

Bridges was noticeably buoyed on Sunday, having started the first day of his fifth term – “when you put it like that, it’s starting to clock up” – with a church service.

“I’ve had a lot of people at my local church, [which] I’ve just been to … congratulating me and that’s always really nice.

“More generally around New Zealand, I am talking to colleagues who have lost their jobs.

“It’s a bittersweet time.”

He was still not interested in the leadership, but said that as an experienced and senior MP, he expected to play a role in helping National rebuild from the “disappointing” result.

“I feel like I’ve got a significant contribution to make, not as leader, but as a senior person in the National Party.”

He said his priorities for Tauranga had not changed: roading, housing, law and order, and the CBD.

“There’s still a lot to do for this city, we’ve got a lot of growth and a lot of issues and I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and get into it.”

He hoped to keep the foreign affairs and justice portfolios.

Not every blue voter was unhappy with Labour’s landslide.

“We love it,” said Louise Harkin, walking in the park with Rex Harkin.

The Bethlehem/Matua couple always backed National and were happy for Bridges but said their business did better under Labour governments.

“… Labour really likes to spend money and we’re business people. We struggled more under National.”

Brookfield father-of-two Ryan Mitchell liked Ardern and Bridges but backed National and Act because he thought they were better positioned to pull New Zealand out of the recession.

“Labour is nice for now, but I am not sure if they have that clear line of sight to get us out of this. It’s going to take more than three years. I’m thinking of my kids.”

The 37-year-old sales and marketing professional said National’s leadership struggles “didn’t help”.

“If it was yachting, National was changing the sails but weren’t still focused on winning the race. Jacinda changed a few sails but she was still focused on winning.”

He wanted to see Bridges take another swing at the leadership, perhaps with new Botany MP Chris Luxon, former Air New Zealand chief executive.

National volunteer Lachlan Wolfe, 21, said the party had got past bad losses before and would do so again if it adapted and diversified.

He was still feeling good about Judith Collins’ leadership, saying she had been effective a pointing out Labour’s lack of progress in areas such as child poverty and housing.

“She’s a performer and she delivers on her promises,” the student said.

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