New Zealand’s center-right National Party elected Simon Bridges to lead the opposition against the ruling Labour Party-led coalition after the National Party unexpectedly lost control of the government in fall 2017, prompting the resignation of former-Prime Minister Bill English. Although the National Party won the most votes in the election, it was unable to form an agreement with smaller parties, causing Labour to lead the government in coalition with the Green Party and New Zealand First, a populist party.
Labour experienced a surge in popularity and votes after Jacinda Ardern was elected party leader less than two months before the election. Ardern campaigned on a progressive platform of constructing more homes in New Zealand to address a housing crisis and a plan to make higher education free to all New Zealanders. Ardern has been praised as prime minister for her authenticity and youthfulness, and the enthusiasm of her supporters was even dubbed “Jacindamania” by New Zealand’s press.
The National Party sought a leader to match this enthusiasm when it elected Bridges behind closed doors. Bridges was elected following two rounds of voting. At only 41-years-old, Bridges used his youth to his advantage when vying for the spot of opposition leader, running as the candidate of exciting generational change.
Bridges has served as minister of labour, economic development, energy, and transport in the past. He is part Maori, the indigenous group native to New Zealand, and will be the first New Zealander of indigenous descent to lead the National Party.
Bridges promised to ensure the government is held to account and actually delivers benefits for New Zealanders. Bridges stated that the “government is big on lofty intentions but struggling to turn that into real gains for New Zealanders,” emphasizing that his caucus brings both experience and energy for the upcoming election in 2020.
Bridges announced that his party will undergo a “full policy review” to explore new ideas for the 2020 election and attract a broader base of voters and coalition partners. He acknowledged that the party needs new policies to remain competitive. Bridges remained confident in the National Party’s economic policies but wants to emphasize environmental policy, which many view as an attempt to woo the Greens into a coalition in 2020. Bridges prepares to reshuffle leadership positions in the opposition in the coming weeks.
Bridges’s first choice for deputy leader of the opposition, current-Deputy Leader Paula Bennet, remained in her position.