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Bill Ralston: Simon Bridges looks like a dead man walking

National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo/Getty Images

The National Party’s ongoing ructions suggest a long spell in the wilderness lies ahead.

I have demolished my house. Well, the foundations and some of the floor remain, but the sunny old seaside bach is now matchwood, its place to be taken by a much-improved new dwelling. Wrecking your home is a pastime I can recommend, as it drives almost every other consideration out of your head.

The one pesky thought that persists concerns the fate of unfortunate ex-National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross, who periodically reappears in the media like an ailing albatross hung around the neck of his former leader, Simon Bridges. From time to time, Ross’ mates feed selected media embarrassing tapes he secretly recorded in the past. The question is, should the media be gleefully replaying those conversations?

I say this not to protect Bridges, who gives every appearance of being a dead man walking when it comes to the leadership of the National Party. But reporters, editors and producers should be concerned that they are meddling with the mental health of Ross, who has already had at least one breakdown and appears to be locked onto a completely self-destructive course of action. A little like my house, Ross’ political career has been destroyed, but there is no rebuild possible for him.

Similarly, I suspect Bridges’ career is also wrecked. Every time he is forced into commenting on one of Ross’ weird revelations, he comes under repeated media attack. His best response would be to say nothing other than that the man is mentally unwell, that he wishes him a full recovery and he will not comment further because he has no desire to exacerbate his condition.

Over the past decade or more, I have specialised in providing crisis management and training for clients, some of whom were Bridges’ predecessors. I have never seen a situation so mishandled as the Ross saga. Bridges’ decision to hold an inquiry into the paltry issue of who leaked details of his travel expenses was madness in that it drew out for months a matter that would have died in the media within 48 hours.

Having made the right decision to stand Ross down on medical leave, Bridges then repeatedly described the MP’s unspecified condition as “embarrassing”, leaving us to think the poor chap must have had some kind of icky social disease. Deputy party leader Paula Bennett then foolishly raised the issue of Ross’ infidelities with his colleagues and nasty bullying behaviour towards women. This provoked the release of the tapes. Could National not stop picking at the scab?

Internecine warfare used to be the habit of the Labour Party, but now it is afflicting National as some in or near the party use Ross as a weapon against Bridges in the hope of installing Judith Collins as leader in his place. She better pray they don’t succeed, because National does not have a chance of getting 50% of the vote at the next election and nor does it have a potential coalition partner. Therefore, whoever is leading it at that stage is destined for oblivion.

Labour must be thanking its lucky stars as its missteps earlier in the year are obscured by National’s plunge into the abyss. No one is listening to anything the Opposition is saying.

There is an old adage that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. But the opposition does have to look like it is at least capable of governing in a coherent fashion.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that as long as Jacinda Ardern remains Prime Minister, we are looking at a three-term Labour-led Government and National is toast.

This column was first published in the November 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.