COMMENT:

To National leader Simon Bridges goes the skirmish, but ahead of him lies a potential war - or death by a thousand tapes.

Bridges' initial defence on Monday to serious allegations of electoral law wrongdoing by MP Jami-Lee Ross was bumbling and seemed evasive but he made up for it on Tuesday.

The rictus "everything is okay" grin was gone and it was a furious Bridges who fronted after Ross released the tape of a phone conversation he had claimed would prove Bridges asked him to engage in unlawful behaviour around an election donation.

Advertisement

That tape did nothing at all to prove that. As one onlooker observed, there is a great chasm between promising evidence of criminal corruption and delivering an unkind comment about a backbench MP.

Bridges emerged to fire back, accusing Ross of blackmail, defamation and being a "terrible person" and saying the tape had vindicated him rather than condemned him. His mission now is to totally destroy Ross' credibility.

This he needs to do, because as Bridges said, he believed Ross had been secretly taping him for months. Ahead of him lies the possibility Ross will drip feed recordings with potentially embarrassing conversations in them.

If that happens, Bridges will be tied up for months defending and explaining comments he may have said in unguarded conversations. No leader can sustain such a distraction.

The contents of that tape did not completely clear the National Party of any wrongdoing in handling that donation, which National claimed was made up of seven or eight smaller donations, but nor did it prove there was wrongdoing.

Nor did it implicate Bridges at all in trying to dodge electoral rules or hide the identity of donors.

On the tape, there was nothing that indicated Bridges gave a hoot whether the donors were disclosed or not.

His only concern was whether National Party president Peter Goodfellow would use the funding for party admin rather that letting Bridges use it for things such as "attack ads" on Labour policies.

But although Ross said the donation was "no strings attached" there was a rather alarming conversation about the donor's apparent wish for National to get a second Chinese MP.

What could prove more damaging for Bridges was being caught out discussing which of his MPs might be dispensable to allow new MPs to be brought in on the list.

There will be some sympathy in caucus and the wider public for Maureen Pugh, who has done nothing to deserve the humiliation of being decreed "f...ing useless" by her leader.

Bridges recognised that and issued what seemed to be a very contrite apology. He put his blunt language down to being a "rough diamond".

It is probably safe to say Pugh's list placing at least is now safe for 2020. It is also probably safe to say a number of MPs are now discussing whether Bridges is also f***ing useless.

Bridges is most fortunate his list of dispensable MPs stopped where it did.

National Party MP Chris Finlayson responds to taped comments about him made by leader Simon Bridges.

For his MPs will also see the tape for what it is: an extraordinary betrayal of trust.

Politicians are also pragmatic, except when it involves them personally. It is fair to assume MPs from all parties debate the merits of each other.

One of those mentioned - Chris Finlayson - responded accordingly, saying it was fortuitous he intended to leave anyway. He added it was very fortunate other people did not hear what he said about them behind his back.