Opposition leader Simon Bridges says it remains to be seen if anyone can set up a Christian values-based party as a potential coalition partner for National in the next election.
Bridges — who is in the Bay of Islands this weekend for his party's annual Northern Region Conference — was unfazed by religious leader Brian Tamaki's move this week to start a political party, just a week after National MP Alfred Ngaro said he was considering setting up a party appealing to Christian voters.
Political pundits have argued since the last election that National needs more ''friends'', or parties it can form a coalition with, and see a party led by Ngaro as one such option. Tamaki's Coalition Party, however, could split the Christian vote.
Bridges, however, described the flurry of party-forming talk as ''a bit of limbering up'' ahead of the election period.
''What it shows is there is definitely a gap in the market. There's a few per cent of folk who feel let down by Labour but they may not be Nats. Their faith and values is what drives their vote but it remains to be seen if either [of the new parties] can be successful.
''It's really hard to get a new party up and running, Alfred has the edge because he is in Parliament, if that's what he decides to do. I wouldn't pretend it's a fait accompli.''
Where Bridges was confident, however, was National MP Matt King's chance of holding on to Northland even if speculation that NZ First's Shane Jones will stand against him is proved correct.
''I'm confident because Matt is doing the mahi. Whenever I ring him he's in his Mattmobile somewhere in the electorate. Every hour God gives him, he's going at it.''
While Jones had a lot of money to distribute in Northland, Bridges said people were cynical about the NZ First MP and his fund.
While politics shouldn't be about pork barrelling, Jones would have to do a lot to make up for the $450 million road from Whangārei to Northport that the Government had cancelled, he said.
More than 300 people, including 22 of National's 55 MPs, are expected at this weekend's get-together in Waitangi, the party's biggest after its national conference.
The MPs will include Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell, Paul Goldsmith and Nikki Kaye.
Bridges will speak about the government's ''year of delivery'' and what National would do in its first 100 days if elected, Bennett is expected to talk about drug reform and Goldsmith about the economy.
''There will be a focus on Northland and I'll make sure Shane Jones gets even more of a ribbing than he would in another part of the country,'' Bridges said.
''It's also a really important opportunity for rank and file members to be clear about what they see happening and what they want from us.''
No easy ride at Kerikeri resthome
If National leader Simon Bridges thought a talk at a Kerikeri resthome would be a walk in the park, he was wrong.
While some residents at Kerikeri Retirement Village were sympathetic to Bridges' views, others were far from it — and they weren't shy about saying so.
The opposition leader stopped to speak to about 20 village residents on his way to National's Northern Region Conference, which opens at the Copthorne Hotel in Waitangi this morning.
Much of the audience nodded in agreement when Bridges railed about sliding standards in education, ambulance funding and Northland's poor roads, but it was a different story when he was quizzed about rail.
Several residents wanted to know his position on a merger of upper North Island ports or shifting Auckland's freight to Northport, which would require a new rail link to Marsden Pt.
Bridges said he opposed any kind of ''1970s Polish-style, government-run super-port'', describing it as ''barking mad''.
He predicted the Government would include $1b-$1.5b in extra funding for rail in its upcoming budget but it was all just ''beads and blankets'' compared to a four-lane highway from Auckland to Whangārei, which was what Northland really needed to get its economy moving.
One resident, who wouldn't give his name, was unimpressed. ''It's all bull****,'' he said.
Other questions from the audience related to roading, electric vehicles (Bridges was a firm supporter) and medicinal cannabis.
Bridges said his party had developed a comprehensive medicinal cannabis regime and would introduce it in its first 100 days if elected, but he did not support full legalisation of recreational cannabis.