COMMENT:

Within an hour of National leader Simon Bridges' wrapping up his first party conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was peeing on his parade.

Ardern broke her five-week long radio silence and posted a Facebook video of herself talking about her return to work in a week's time, her foot rocking baby Neve in the background.

This reminder of her existence will have been no coincidence.

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Bridges was hoping for clear-air at the conference. There is little doubt Ardern's aim was to foul it.

He is clearly not a superstitious man, or the first policy he pulled out of the bag at a party conference would not have been one to shrink class sizes.

It is the same policy area Labour's ill-fated former leader David Cunliffe delivered at his first conference in 2014.

Two months later Cunliffe led Labour to a record low result of 24 per cent at the election.

Anything that invites a comparison of Bridges' with Cunliffe's leadership should be a no-go area.

Bridges said he chose it by way of putting his own mark on the leadership.

His first conference was aimed at selling himself to the party membership. Just as his predecessor John Key had distinguished himself early on with talk of the "underclass", Bridges was attempting to show he had heart rather than just flinty economics.

A quick hello as we get ready to come back!

Posted by Jacinda Ardern on Saturday, 28 July 2018

In that regard, education is pretty much a safe no-fail area. It is bread and butter policy in both parties.

By way of emphasising why education was his chosen area, Bridges highlighted his own background - from Rutherford College to Harvard. He also spoke of the teachers in his own family.

In 2012, National learned the hard way that increasing class sizes could lose you support and had to backtrack on its plans to do just that to try to save money.

It is a somewhat shameless reversal and raid on the left, but shrinking class sizes is never going to lose votes and it went down well enough on the floor of the conference.

What was lacking was any detail. No figures, no targets, no anything. It is a rare thing to see a leader release a policy at a big conference without any details.

Bridges simply flagged the intention and said the party would work on the details over the next two years.

That would normally be fine, if Bridges had not criticised Labour for doing exactly that in Government. National has railed against Labour over the number of working groups it put together to work out the mechanics of how its policies will work.

Bridges attempted to explain the distinction, saying National's point had been that Labour had not done that work when it was in Opposition so its own policies were not ready to roll when it got into government.

National Party leader Simon Bridges on stage with his wife Natalie and kids Emlyn, Harry and Jemina during the last day of the National Party Conference held at SkyCity. Photo / Dean Purcell
National Party leader Simon Bridges on stage with his wife Natalie and kids Emlyn, Harry and Jemina during the last day of the National Party Conference held at SkyCity. Photo / Dean Purcell

What he couldn't explain was why National had not done that given it had just had nine years in power.

Bridges' response to questions about whether he had nicked Labour policy was to point out that while it was Labour policy in 2014 it had not survived through to 2017 and Labour had not done anything about it.

Other than that policy, Bridges' speech was full of the usual phrases that warm the cockles of the hearts of National's rank and file.

There was "do the crime, do the time" talk about letting hard-working New Zealanders keep more of their own money, and criticism of the Government for "tax and borrow".

Bridges speech could have been delivered by any of his predecessors.

Then again, maybe that was the point.

There is another ominous comparison between Bridges and Cunliffe. Bridges' figures as preferred PM also resemble those of Cunliffe.

Bridges' primary aim at the conference was to try to change that. The first job was to put his own house in order - he could hardly hope to get the support of wider New Zealand if he could not get the support of the 600 in that room.

He had his cute moment, reminding everybody he too had a young family by getting his children Emlyn, Harry and Jemima on stage with him, Harry waving before trying to hide behind mother Natalie's legs.

There was a punchy, fast-paced and slick video introducing Bridges before his speech. It prompted laughs when he said of wife Natalie "I fell in love with a leftie."

The loudest cheers came when he spoke of winning Tauranga in 2008: "I beat Winston."

There were more laughs when an unflattering photo of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern flashed up.

The test will be how long those laughs last.

For much of the conference, the criticism had focused on Peters. Ardern's Facebook was a reminder that Peters was not the biggest obstacle.

He may indeed have beaten "Winston" but the biggest question will be whether he can beat Ardern