Simon Bridges is not mucking around. He plans to win the next election and limit Jacinda Ardern to a single term.

Earlier arguments that National should play defensively for three years and try to sneak back into government as a reheated Key-English-Joyce regime are gone. Even at the risk of a temporary setback, the plan now is to offer something new. Every policy is potentially up for review.

Expected to join Bridges and his deputy Paula Bennett in National's top five are his finance spokeswoman Amy Adams, right-wing favourite Judith Collins and his numbers man Todd McClay. They represent a clear break with the past and compare favourably with Ardern's top five in terms of diversity.

The likely top five has [a combined] 32 years of experience as government ministers.

More importantly, while Bridges' line-up can be positioned as a break with the past, it trumps Ardern's on experience. The likely top five has served a combined 32 years of experience as government ministers compared with none among Labour's crew six months ago.


For his part, Bridges is a former minister of transport, energy, communications and economic development. Bennett is a former deputy prime minister. Adams was put in charge of Bill English's cherished social investment programme.

Collins has famously looked after law and order. As trade minister, McClay was instrumental in reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Donald Trump's withdrawal.

Suggestions by party bigwigs that this lot needs Steven Joyce to babysit them have been rejected by Joyce himself. Bridges' team could form a government tomorrow.

Stepping up

Adams faces the biggest test. Like Ruth Richardson in the late 1980s and John Key in the mid 2000s, the new Opposition finance spokeswoman is tasked with developing an economic vision that is distinct not just from the government of the day but also from the National government that preceded it.

For Richardson, that was reducing the size of government, deregulating the labour market and extending market forces into social policy. For Key, it was first his radical 2005 tax-cut package and then his 2006 adoption of Singaporean-style rhetoric around infrastructure.

So far, Adams has earned a reputation as a competent technocrat, but with the black marks of her failed plans to override the Commerce Commission on internet pricing and reform the Resource Management Act. Her colleagues praise her work on domestic violence and she made a fool of the new Government over paid parental leave.

She now needs to step up. If she wants to succeed as Richardson and Key did in their different ways, she will spend at least the next year genuinely engaging with the more innovative end of the business community, and with a fair spread of academics and think tanks. Bridges expects her to deliver something exciting by the beginning of 2020.

Collins will assist, with her background in tax law and own leadership ambitions surely vanquished. The Papakura MP holds a grudge against Key for limiting her to law and order, caricaturing her as "Crusher Collins". Bridges will grant her the senior economic role she has always wanted, albeit also with the brief of finding dodgy deals in the provincial growth fund with which to hurt Shane Jones.



Joyce's departure has satisfied the bloodlust among a large chunk of the National caucus. Nevertheless, Gerry Brownlee, David Carter and Nick Smith need to reconcile themselves to their careers coming to end.

As long-term MPs, all three are entitled to the same deal Key offered in 2008 to the likes of Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson: you can have anything you want, except real political power.

Similarly, after his poor performance in health, Jonathan Coleman should count himself lucky Bridges plans to be charitable.

Among those expecting bigger roles are Auckland MPs Paul Goldsmith, Nikki Kaye and Jami-Lee Ross.

Former Fonterra and Zespri executive Todd Muller will get the go-ahead to deliver Bridges' promise of a genuinely green climate-change policy capable of being supported by National's farming constituency. If he succeeds, he is certain to take on primary industries before the election. Muller represents the modern face of agri-business.

The overall strategy is clear: Bridges plans that it will be his National not Ardern's Labour that voters perceive as fresh and new in 2020. And, so far at least, he's on track to deliver.

Matthew Hooton is managing director of PR and corporate affairs firm Exceltium.