It's sad isn't it? What's become of National under Simon Bridges. Bereft of quality new ideas the party has fallen back on old ideas. Ideas from other leaders like Don Brash. Not even the acceptable John Key ideas. The cruel nasty punitive ideas.
A few weeks back, National floated the idea of fining parents of students who dropped out of school and didn't go into training or other education. They were going to be fined $3000. Then last week National released its social services "discussion document" and the $3000 fine policy didn't seem to have made the cut.
Perhaps it wasn't racist enough. Perhaps National learned in the process of policy development that a lot of wealthy families had children who dropped out early and didn't do any further education. If you can't punish poor or brown people then National just don't seem into it.
The discussion document had nasty ideas like not letting solo parents receive their benefits if their children weren't vaccinated. Nobody else was at risk of this. No-one who received a middle-class Working for Family tax credit, or two-parent households, just solo parents. Which shows that Bridges isn't trying to increase vaccination rates - he's just looking for another stick to beat poor people with.
Every expert interviewed said that punitive sanctions don't work. In fact they do the opposite of what they set out to achieve, which is a fairly good metaphor for Bridges.
As we enter the home stretch before an election, people have been comparing Bridges to Scott Morrison in Australia, whose Coalition was behind in every poll and was facing electoral doom to Bill Shorten's Labor party before pulling off a shock upset. But that's the wrong comparison.
In this analogy, Bridges wouldn't be ScoMo. He'd be Bill Shorten. Labor was ahead in the polls, just like National is ahead here, but Bill Shorten was an incredibly unlikeable leader and Labor led despite of him, not because of him. That's exactly where National sits. It's ahead in the polls despite Bridges being practically useless as leader. He can't connect, he can't be honest, he can't come up with good ideas - he's just a sad man whose career rose up in front of him despite his own failings.
The Peter Principle is a management idea, where we all keep being promoted until we reach one level beyond our competence. For this to be true of Bridges would mean he was a capable Cabinet minister, except we're now slowly finding out that everything he touched as a Cabinet minister in the last government was a disaster too.
His time as Minister of Transport saw NZTA turn into an utter basket case. He was bamboozled by some United States video game makers into thinking they could turn New Zealand into some tech wonderland where "bots" ran the country.
The regulatory function of NZTA fell apart when numerous car warrant of fitness organisations were found to be doing a terrible job, and he promised Northland a bunch of bridges during the Northland by-election that were never built.
His dishonesty has continued. This year the Government proposed a Parliamentary Budget Office that would cost out all our political parties' policies. It was going to be an independent body, like the ombudsman or auditor general, but Simon said nope. No way. He wasn't having it. For an independent body like this to be established, it needs the support of all of parliament. By opposing it, National basically put a halt to it.
Bridges said he wouldn't support it because he couldn't trust the Government. He said he couldn't trust the Government because they'd stuffed him around on getting a secondee in his office from Treasury to help him do economic things. Except the Government had done no such thing.
Emails released under the Official Information Act show that the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister's then-Chief of Staff had written to Bridges' chief of staff agreeing to his request in September 2018. Nearly a year before Simon said the Government stuffed him round.
Treasury had tried to find a secondee, but nobody wanted to work for Bridges. After asking for volunteers, there were none. So they started shoulder tapping people. Who refused. I've never related more to people who work at Treasury. Finally one person was found that Treasury thought was suitable, but Bridges' office didn't want them. And yet Bridges dishonestly claimed that the Government was messing him round.
So with 12 months to go until the election what has Bridges actually got? What might make people vote for him? I suspect we'll start seeing more 'tough on crime' rubbish that has been thoroughly discredited. National will probably start to talk more about Bridges' time as a Crown Prosecutor and how tough he was back then. We'll get photos and transcripts of Sheriff Simon in court, riding to the rescue, saving us from the terrible gangs. Because when you have nothing but lies, failure and disaster behind you, you grasp around for anything.
There are far better comparisons for Bridges than Bill Shorten. Jeremy Corbyn might be one. No matter how bad the Conservatives under Boris have been, they can rely on Corbyn to be liked less. But I think the best comparison is that Bridges is basically David Garrett. Just without the convictions.