I was kind of hoping Judith Collins would win the leadership of the National Party.

There's something devilishly appealing about her grin, combined with those arched eyebrows. She has a look that says, "I've got some dirt on you, and I'm not afraid to use it."

Collins taking it to Ardern and calling out some of the gushy spin-doctoring image manipulation would have been good fun. There was potential for pointed one-liners delivered with an eyebrow cocked.

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This would have played out entertainingly, but with National slowly declining in the polls, until the inevitable leadership change. Alas, we're denied this spectacle, and a weak and divided National Party.

The National caucus has instead done the right thing and elected Simon Bridges. Oxford-educated, boyishly handsome, competent, and, they're hoping, liked by working New Zealanders.

National MP for Papakura Judith Collins. There's something devilishly appealing about her grin, says Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson.
National MP for Papakura Judith Collins. There's something devilishly appealing about her grin, says Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson.

Whether he's the man to lead National to victory in 2020 or not, he does represent an attempt by the party to get in on the turf that Labour is rapidly claiming.

The goal of a Bridges-led National is to woo some of those younger voters, while also giving enough of a conservative air not to frighten off National's traditional support base, particularly in the regions. So it's a balancing act. He's probably National's best bet to do it, which is what the caucus obviously thought.

The other factor is the need for National to appeal to Green-leaning voters. Bridges is talking up his credentials in that regard.

He knows that National might be locked out of government for a long time if they can't pull the Greens away from Labour, or at least some splintered component of that party.

To have any chance of achieving the fabled blue-green coalition, however, will require some major policy shifts by National.

A train travelling south into Whangarei where the track runs alongside Lupton Ave in Whangarei.
A train travelling south into Whangarei where the track runs alongside Lupton Ave in Whangarei.

They've been the party of roads, while the Greens ― and many educated young people ― understand that we need to plan (and build) today for a different tomorrow, which means the centrality of rail to our future.

National's Whangarei MP, Dr Shane Reti, has been running ads in this paper recently affirming his commitment to a four-lane highway from Warkworth to Whangarei. There's support for it, undoubtedly.

But building a $2 billion road would likely come at the expense of linking Northland by rail to Auckland and the growing central North Island economy. Something the Greens and Labour are big on.

As long as National remains the party of roads, there's never going to be a deal with the Greens, and no deal with young environmentally aware voters.

I predict there's going to be a polarising debate within the National Party, which will spill out into the business community, farmers, and National's conservative support base, about the party's relationship with the roading lobby.

Which side wins, over the next one or two electoral cycles, will go a long way to determining what kind of National Party governs in the future and who, crucially, they govern with.

Might Bridges be the one who tries to steer National towards what would be a cross-party commitment to rebuilding New Zealand's rail network?