Being Opposition leader is not the worst job in politics - being Opposition leader in the first year of a new government is surely the worst job in politics as Simon Bridges is finding.

You are trying to instil a positive outlook in a team of disappointed and frustrated egos who have to contend with small offices, no staff, and relearn the art of picking up their own dry cleaning and buying their own coffee.

The public isn't interested in you. Everyone is interested in the new Government and their new programme, the new relationships, new ministers, the new Prime Minister, and the new baby.


If you don't criticise the Government, you are not doing your job; if you criticise the Government too much you are accused of being overly negative and barking at every passing car.

You are never good enough. You are not as witty or intelligent as your predecessors but what is true is that people love mimicking the way you spoik.

When you consider all the handicaps Simon Bridges has had to contend with, it is a wonder he still wants the job.

Bridges has not made too many mistakes since becoming leader in February - the biggest one was commissioning the inquiry into the leaked expenses.

But what is evident from events this week including his handling of Jami-Lee Ross's health crisis is that he is an easy magnet for criticism and there is a low tolerance for errors from him.

People like to dislike him which is a slight disadvantage in politics.

The Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey had a harsh assessment of Bridges. He was accused of not landing a punch on the Government and of failing to present a credible economic alternative to the Government.

It could have been worse. Bridges was given 2.44 out of 5 by the 150 CEOs which suggests they are reserving judgment about him, which means his best days as leader may be ahead of him – or behind him.

People like to dislike him which is a slight disadvantage in politics.

The criticism of Bridges was perhaps unduly harsh given that new Government has barely found its own feet as an alternative to the Key-English Government, with so much unsettled policy on tax, industrial relations, and climate change.

And there has barely been a time this year when the Government has not been under pressure.

The source of the pressure may have been self-inflicted by a minister, exposed by the media or by an Opposition MP. But National has almost always exploited the Government's weaknesses and added to the pressure.

It does not add up to death by a thousand cuts, but it does add up to a stubborn failure by the parties of the Government to broaden their appeal despite the popularity of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Illustration / Guy Body
Illustration / Guy Body

It has been under pressure over Labour's summer camp, its position on Russia, the surplus of working parties, the oil and gas ambush which was made with very little advice except that it would increase carbon emissions, the demotion and resignation of Clare Curran, the appointment of Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha, the involvement of Jacinda Ardern in Derek Handley's appointment to Chief Technology Officer and the Meka Whaitiri sacking.

National's top performers this year have been Chris Bishop, Melissa Lee, Paul Goldsmith, Judith Collins, Paula Bennett, Jami-Lee Ross until recently, and - at long last - Amy Adams, who has hit her stride in finance after a slow start. She was impressive opposite Grant Robertson this week at Mood of the Boardroom.

Where Bridges himself has done well has been in highlighting the inherent power struggles in coalition relationships between Labour and New Zealand First, although that task has been made easy with the refusal of Winston Peters to call it a Labour-led Government.

This week has been the most damaging for National under Bridges - and not because he used the word "embarrassing" in relation to Jami-Lee Ross' health issues.

Differences are inevitable but they are visible only when they are managed poorly, and poor management was apparent over some of the industrial law reform, justice law reform, refugee numbers and the partnership agency for Māori-Crown relations.

At this stage of the election cycle, highlighting weaknesses in the Government is a huge part of the job. There is no point announcing policy with two thirds of the term to run.

But Bridges has not been entirely negative. National has signed up to Ardern's bill which bakes in the requirement for all governments to have child poverty reduction targets.

He is also working with the Government on climate change policy. Perhaps National is making a virtue of necessity because the party would likely be punished if it eschewed a bipartisan approach on either of those issues. But it is unfair to characterise it as wholly negative and unconstructive.

This week has been the most damaging for National under Bridges - and not because he used the word "embarrassing" in relation to Jami-Lee Ross's health issues.

The pile-on to Bridges seemed excessive - considering he acknowledged the error and offered a plausible explanation - that he was meaning "embarrassment" at having your personal health issues aired so publicly, and not that mental health issues were embarrassing.

This week has been most damaging because the revival of the possibility of an MP having leaked against Bridges and the extraordinary lengths he has gone to in order to find the culprit projects the image of a party more concerned about itself than the voters.

The fact is that the original leak and the leak inquiry have gone in directions that neither the leaker nor Bridges would have anticipated.

It is not likely Bridges will ever admit to regretting the inquiry but it has been a two-month distraction for what may well turn out to be an inconclusive outcome by the inquiry.

That amounts to the worst decision in an otherwise reasonable showing in National's first year of Opposition.