News of the retirement of National's campaign guru Steven Joyce prompted one observer to quip National's caucus would be like Lance Corporal Jones from Dad's Army running around hollering out "don't panic, don't panic."

It's a fair enough assessment. The party survived the departure of Sir John Key but losing Bill English and Steven Joyce in quick succession is the start of a whole new world.

New leader Simon Bridges' response appears to be to set up a Mums' Army.

Paula Bennett is his deputy and Amy Adams was revealed as his third-ranked MP and finance spokeswoman yesterday.


It's a fair bet Judith Collins will be fourth in line.

In its top five National will have the same number of women as Labour does on its whole front bench – including PM Jacinda Ardern.

National has already delivered the first leadership team in which both leader and deputy are Maori.

Now Bridges appears determined to out-women Labour as well.

National has always been somewhat dismissive of Labour's attempts to regulate itself to ensure proportionality when it comes to gender.

Labour's caucus is 46 per cent female while National is still well back on 34 per cent.

It caught up slightly because two women – Maureen Pugh and Nicola Willis – are replacing two men, English and Joyce.

National has always claimed to decide on merit rather than gender and Bridges will insist his reshuffle was based on merit rather than gender.


It is probably both.

The woman thing is an issue for Bridges and not only because he is up against Ardern.

You can't win an election without women.

Until Key came along, National was straggling well behind Labour in the women's vote.

Key managed to break Labour's stranglehold on women and that was critical to get into Government and stay there.

One of Bridges' challenges is holding on to that support.

Some of that will be pure optics.

When it comes to assessing a leader trust is a key factor. For many that comes through intuition based on how a leader comes across on the television.

Key barely had to lift a finger to be trusted. English had to earn it – and did.

Bridges will get the initial verdict on Tuesday when National's first round of polling since the handover comes through.

It is also about personnel and policy.

Nikki Kaye was in Adams' camp and she and Bridges are not close but Bridges cannot afford to demote her.

Kaye is young, has resonance in Auckland and is credible as an advocate for the socially liberal side of National compared to Bridges' conservatism.

She is also one of its most convincing voices on the environment.

For all those reasons, Kaye was Bill English's sidekick in the election campaign.

She was a visual reminder National was not all about middle-aged men.

Willis too will be a valuable asset.

Willis will be a new MP but is not inexperienced in politics.

A former speechwriter for Key, Willis was the fill-in Helen Clark for Key's debate prep in 2008 and was again used as a "Jacinda" for English's debate prep.

Knowing thine enemy, and she does.

When it comes to policy, Bridges has identified the environment as an area to target.

It will be an uphill battle – the perception of National as pro-business at the expense of the environment runs as deep as the perception that National is better at managing the economy than Labour.

Neither is necessarily completely true but must be contended with.

The trick will be finding the right balance between reassuring voters National can be a responsible guardian of the environment while avoiding disrupting its core vote of business people and farmers who will inevitably have to bear at least some of the costs of environmentalism.

There remains the question of who can step into Joyce's shoes as a strategist.

Some question whether the credit given to Joyce for National's success is apocryphal. The numbers suggest it is not.

Joyce successfully navigated National's way through five campaigns.

The last two were very different beasts - 2014 was the Dirty Politics election and Sir John Key was leader. 2017 was clean politics but dangerous for the threat posed by National's own leadership change to Bill English and the rise of Jacinda Ardern.

It was Joyce who engineered the tax attack and "fiscal hole" which, whether right or wrong, managed to halt Labour's storm up the polls about a fortnight before the election.

Joyce did have some failures but when it really counted, he came through.