John Armstrong opinion: The sad truth for Simon Bridges is that the vast proportion of the public simply don't like him

What hope now for Simon Bridges? What are the odds on him still being at National’s helm when the next election campaign rolls around in the second half of 2020?

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Source: 1 NEWS

Well, never say never. But — and it is a very big but — every factor relevant to the likelihood of Bridges’ making it that far now screams to the negative.

The Leader of the Opposition might claim to have ended one of the most cataclysmic weeks in his party’s history in a stronger shape than when he entered it.

The stark reality is that he has never been in such a position of weakness as is the case now.

You need look no further than this week’s 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll and the latest preferred prime minister ratings for the evidence of that.

Having slumped to just seven per cent, Bridges has sunk into the same dark, deep hole that swallowed up the likes of Andrew Little, David Cunliffe, David Shearer and Phil Goff when Labour was in Opposition.

The more you try to dig yourself out, the deeper you dig yourself in.

Everything you do is deemed to be wrong. The voting public stops listening to you because they think you are now unelectable. Once so tagged, you are unelectable.

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But the Opposition leader refused to tell Breakfast if he knew beforehand that his deputy Paula Bennett planned to publicise the alleged affairs. Source: Breakfast

The numbers add up to very bad news for Bridges. He would note that National is holding up well in the party vote. MMP elections are always tight, however. A leader who can drag votes away from opponents through virtue of charisma and strong branding is vital.

But only one in every six or seven voters who expressed a party vote preference for National in the 1 NEWS polls were happy for Bridges to still be National’s boss.

That data will be seized upon by the Greek chorus which is comprised of critics and detractors who have made it their mission to get National to dump Bridges.

They will no doubt add to the bitter and sordid feud between Bridges and Jami-Lee Ross to the long list of the former’s perceived failings.

Indeed, there has been a failure of leadership on that score. But it isn’t Bridges’ leadership which is to blame for the two-way flow of vitriol which has rocked the National Party to its very foundations.

Some blame should be sheeted home to Sir John Key and his time as prime minister.

You might well ask why. Here is the answer.

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Mr Bridges’ personal popularity to be PM has dropped to seven per cent, his lowest rating since becoming National Party leader. Source: Breakfast

Ross's paramount objective has been to destroy Bridges' leadership by dragging the latter through the political cesspit and mouthing a string of allegations selected for the sole purpose of draining public respect for Bridges.

The slump in the latter's preferred prime minister rating in the latest poll suggests Ross has succeeded in meeting that goal.

In doing so, however, he has lifted the lid on the very toxic culture that continues to pervade the National Party.

In that regard, the showdown between National's leader and his now former friend, colleague and fellow front-bencher is the sound of some very large chickens come home to roost.

Such has been Ross' modus operandi that it could have come straight out of the pages of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics.

That book catalogued in great detail many of the National Party's dirty tricks and other less than savoury practices which it was willing to employ to compromise an opponent or blunt the threat he or she posed to National.

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The latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll comes after a dramatic week in politics. Source: 1 NEWS

The book was pure dynamite. Hager primed it to explode in National's face by publishing it in the early stages of the 2014 election campaign.

The book would set the election agenda. Voters would be horrified by the contents. National would be pilloried from publication day to polling day. Well, that was the plan.

The few days following the launch were nervous ones for Key as he assessed the damage to National's re-election chances resulting from Hager's intervention.

Steven Joyce, National’s then Mr Fix-It, conducted an intensive round of media interviews with the purpose of discrediting Hager.

Sales of the book soared. But Hager was preaching to the converted.

The voters yawned. The election campaign moved on to other matters.

It was a familiar story. It seemed that Key could do no wrong. Bridges' problem is that his critics refuse point-blank to concede that he is capable of getting it right.

Nevertheless, Hager's revelations should have been cue for a post-election clean-out of National's Aegean stables. That did not happen. That was in part because the last thing political parties are willing to do is wash their dirty linen in public.

But it was also in part due to the National Party hierarchy losing - to borrow Ross's term - its moral compass.

This deficiency was glaringly apparent in the party OKing a confidentiality agreement in order to restrain a woman who claimed she had been harassed by Ross from going public.

That the party had been willing to go out of its way in order to protect a senior MP who was clearly out of control set a terrible example.

The Todd Barclay affair provided further evidence that National is inadvertently breeding a new species of MP — one which puts personal entitlement a long way ahead of the public interest and, more worryingly, sees enemies inside National as much as outside the party.

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The former MP did not speak yesterday, but there could still be more to come, say Jessica Mutch McKay and Corin Dann. Source: Breakfast

In Barclay's case, the flashing lights signalling "danger, danger" were again ignored.

To his credit, Bridges has acknowledged this glaring hole in the party's fabric. But he appears reluctant to tackle it with the urgency and vigour that it deserves.

He has ordered an internal review "to ensure a culture in the party where women feel safe". But such an initiative means little without knowing who will be conducting the review and the scope of its terms of reference.

It also appears that the findings of this inquiry will not be made public.

The fear obviously is that those findings will cause some embarrassment to party officials and ordinary rank-and-file members.

But National desperately needs to do something which draws a line under the past two weeks - and does so in significant fashion.

Thanks to Ross and the long list of allegations he fired at Bridges, voters are instead feasting on a veritable smorgasbord of what the moderate-minded find distasteful about the National Party, be it cash donations for candidates, latent racism disguised as tokenism or rubbishing the capabilities of the party's own MPs.

At the end of the day, however, the sad truth — sad for Bridges that is — is that the vast proportion of the public simply don't like him. And they cannot be bothered to find reasons to change their minds.

That was amply illustrated by lynch mob-like rush to crucify him for his mumblings during a phone call secretly taped by Ross.

What he had to say was innocuous compared to the rampant skullduggery which fills Hager's tome.

No matter that Bridges is far more victim than villain in the current meltdown. That seems to count for nothing.

He instead seems doomed to become an ever increasing deadweight on National - one which therefore will have to be jettisoned and, given the rapid turn of recent events, sooner rather than later.