New Zealand opposition selects Maori leader to take on Jacinda Ardern

Simon Bridges (41) to lead National Party after campaigning on generational change

New Zealand National Party leader Simon Bridges with deputy leader Paula Bennett in Wellington on Tuesday. Photograph:  Mark Tantrum/New Zealand National Party/AFP Photo

New Zealand National Party leader Simon Bridges with deputy leader Paula Bennett in Wellington on Tuesday. Photograph: Mark Tantrum/New Zealand National Party/AFP Photo

 

New Zealand’s opposition National Party has elected its first ever Maori leader, who will be supported by a Maori deputy, Paula Bennett.

Simon Bridges (41) ran a campaign of generational change to beat four other contenders to lead the party, after former prime minister Bill English resigned from politics two weeks ago.

Mr Bridges was first elected to parliament in 2008 (the same year as prime minister Jacinda Ardern) and held the labour, energy, economic development and transport portfolios during the party’s decade in power.

“New Zealanders deserve better than a government that is merely muddling along. My focus is on ensuring New Zealand continues to be a place of great opportunities and aspiration for everyone,” said Mr Bridges in his first press conference as leader.

“This government, I believe quite firmly, takes our economy for granted, and New Zealanders know that after a government like this, it is National – that as the best economic managers – has to pick up the pieces. Fine words are fine, but it’s actions that count. More reviews and working groups won’t get us anywhere.”

Mr Bridges has called himself a “compassionate conservative”, and has been described as “genial and relaxed” by political commentator Bryce Edwards and a “mongrel beneath the Brylcream” by Spinoff editor Toby Manhire.

Mr Bridges’s youth, occasional wit and unflappable buoyancy made him the clear front-runner for the leadership race. His energy marks a change from former National leader Mr English, who was widely regarded as boring and lacking the X-factor that helped Labour’s Ms Ardern win the September election.

Mr Bridges described himself as a proud Maori man and “westie” [hailing from West Auckland], and said under his leadership the National party would be “fresh”, “modern” and “energised”, and build on the success of former prime minister John Key, who led the party during its almost 10 years in power. – Guardian