John Armstrong's opinion: Jami-Lee Ross delivered one of parliament's most 'brutal, spiteful and disloyal diatribes'

Rarely, if ever, has New Zealand politics witnessed a day quite like it.

Words like “extraordinary”, “astonishing” and “amazing” hardly do justice when it comes to describing what occurred during the 24 hour period which kicked off in the early afternoon on Monday and which ended around 3pm the following day.

What occurred was that the ordinary was replaced by the truly extraordinary.

It witnessed a little known National MP thrusting himself into the limelight in a manner which was clearly exhilarating for him, but which was disturbing for anyone watching or listening to him.

The National Party leader today made a statement defending his position and welcoming a police inquiry into claims of electoral donation fraud. Source: 1 NEWS

You have to go back to the 1970s and Sir Robert Muldoon’s sickening exploitation of the infamous Moyle Affair to find another example of character assassination as brutal and downright nasty as that being mounted by Jami-Lee Ross, the soon-to-be former National MP for Botany.

Ross has yet to plumb the political gutter to quite the depths to which Muldoon was more than happy to sink for political gain — the case with the former prime minister suggesting that a Labour Cabinet minister had been frequenting public toilets to engage in what at the time were described as “homosexual acts” and which were illegal at that time.

But Ross is fast drifting in similarly sordid directions in his efforts to destroy Simon Bridges. 

Exactly why Ross has chosen to undermine a colleague who was a close friend not so long ago is puzzling to say the least.

In Parliament today Mr Mallard said Mr Ross will now be regarded as independent MP. Source: 1 NEWS

As is Ross’s motive for leaking the details of Bridges’ travel expenses, something he still denies.

Such questions are of little more than academic interest now.

The pair are now engaged in a battle as bitter as any in the history of New Zealand’s Parliament.

Sure David Lange and Sir Roger Douglas fell out big time. but their policy fights were ideologically based rather than personality driven.

1 NEWS’s Benedict Collins unpicks a morning of high drama surrounding the National MP. Source: 1 NEWS

As for Winston Peters' exit from National in the early 1990s, that was a picnic in comparison to the vitriol that Bridges and Ross have been pouring over one another.

Ross delivered what was without a shadow of a doubt one of the most brutal, spiteful and disloyal diatribes ever heard within the precincts of Parliament.

He might have sounded calm and collected. he might have sounded like he was in control.

He was in fact out of control - as shown by his allegations of wrongdoing by Bridges.

Bridges has dismissed various accusations as baseless. But mud sticks. 

The problem for National’s leader is that Ross doesn’t seem to care what he says, not least the collateral damage that he is inflicting on the Party which saw him previously being an ever loyal and reliable disciple.

Mr Ross made a number of claims about the National Party leader in relation to donations. Mr Bridges has denied any wrongdoing. Source: 1 NEWS

This is not normal behaviour. It is deeply worrying. If nothing else, it is to be hoped he is getting the help and advice in the wake of the nervous breakdown which he has not sought to hide - and that he is listening to that advice.

Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious that if he is getting that advice, he is not heeding it.

His accusations against Bridges have no chance of standing up to scrutiny given his refusal to accept his guilt over the leaking of Bridges' travel expenses.

Well might he proclaim his innocence.

The evidence provided by the investigation carried out by PwC may be circumstantial but it points to him being the source of the leak without a shadow of a shadow of a doubt.

The abiding impression was of someone who has become utterly obsessed with the ultimate mission of a maverick MP to undermine Bridges as much as possible during his remaining few weeks in Parliament.

His former colleagues have done what was required by unanimously expelling Ross from the National caucus for good.

Ross was effectively gone by lunchtime. But he had invited himself back as a most unwelcome guest for breakfast, lunch and dinner from here until by-election day — and possibly beyond.

Ross has declared the by-election to be a referendum on Bridges’ leadership.

Ross has no chance of winning the by-election. The measure of his success will be the degree to which he can cut National’s majority.

“It's the strongest possible action the caucus could take,” says Simon Bridges. Source: 1 NEWS

Bridges' tactic will be to ignore Ross as much as possible but that may prove difficult.

Bridges' refusal to answer some pretty straightforward questions about his handling of a large donation to National by a Chinese businessman was less than edifying.

It illustrated that silence is not always going to be an option that Bridges can use to duck Ross’s allegations.

The next few weeks are shaping as quite likely being the toughest Bridges has had to face during his decade as a National MP.

It may make victory in the last February’s leadership ballot look like an absolute doddle in comparison.

The Botany MP has quit Parliament and accuses Simon Bridges of electoral fraud. Source: 1 NEWS