COMMENT:

A theory emerged this week that National leader Simon Bridges had deliberately provoked the Speaker to get himself thrown out of Parliament.

The theory goes that the consequential walk-out was a public demonstration of a caucus unified behind him.

Another theory goes that Bridges may have been looking for a distraction from bullying allegations against MP Maggie Barry and a leak of advice sent to MPs' offices on what to say if approached by media.

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Both theories are as crazy as another one that emerged earlier in the week - that the bullying allegation against Maggie Barry were being promoted by someone in the Judith Collins camp who sees Barry as a threat in the event of Bridges surrendering the leadership.

Barry has as much chance of leading National as Sirocco the kakapo.

There are two obvious reasons that disprove the theory about Bridges provoking the Speaker.

The first is that there was not a great show of solidarity. There was no great arising of members from their slumbers to join a mass walkout.

This is not a caucus used to collective protest action. It was a walk-out in batches over a 10-minute period until only five remained, to the great amusement of the Government.

The second reason is that National had a bunch of questions on subjects which are putting some pressure on the Government and which, as Wednesday showed, have virtually no impact when delivered in an empty theatre.

Among the MPs left were Bridges' leadership rivals back in February: Mark Mitchell who is taking a leading role in the Government's abysmal handling of the Karel Sroubek case, Judith Collins, always a danger on KiwiBuild questions, and Amy Adams who is finding her feet against Grant Robertson in Finance.

None has exhibited signs of anything but loyalty to Bridges.

But it is extraordinary that a party on 46 per cent in last Sunday's 1 News Colmar Brunton poll should be ending the year being subject to speculation about who is going to replace the person who got them to 46.

True the poll would have had delivered a Labour and the Green majority Government, had it been translated to votes, not a National one.

But a single point switch in support between the Greens and Labour would have seen the Greens under the threshold, Labour falling short, and National being able to govern.

Under Sunday's poll result, National was literally one point away from having the numbers to govern. That is a stunning result for an unpopular leader.

Other polls tell a different story including National's own leaked polling by Curia. It is impossible to say one is right and one is wrong, although the last Colmar Brunton poll has a reasonable record – its last poll before last year's election had National on 46 per cent and Labour on 37 per cent, not too far from the actual result of National with 44.4 per cent and Labour on 36.9 per cent.

But the political death-wish for Bridges is so strong, especially among some media, that one colleague declared that National's 41 per cent in the party-commissioned poll was the "real" rating, not 46 per cent.

National was at 46 per cent a year ago under Bill English. It is not necessarily an outlier result.

After he announced he would be stepping down, National fell to 43 and Jacinda Ardern's Labour soared to 48 per cent.

Since then, National has led Labour all year in Colmar Brunton, except at the height of the Jami-Lee Ross scandal in October.

Even if the "real" support is somewhere between the two poll results, it is close to National's election result.

The notion that a party could be polling high while its leader is polling as low as 7 per cent is unusual, so unusual that there seems to be a move to "correct" it.

If Bridges is finally forced to step down before the 2020 election, it won't be because of the large gap between the party and leader but because the campaign against him has forced down the party vote.

After a hiatus, the campaign against Bridges has resumed.

The latest leaks of internal polling, advice to MPs, and now policy papers to today's Weekend Herald suggest that disloyal elements survive among the staff or caucus, even after the expulsion of Jami-Lee Ross.

It is possible that National has been subject to a hacker rather than a leaker. The distinction is important because being hacked means it is a victim and having a leaker connotes disloyalty and disunity.

But after the last inquiry, which dragged on and on until the dramatic meltdown by Ross at Parliament, Bridges is unlikely to take the risk in finding out what or who is behind the latest leaks through an inquiry.

In that sense the latest leaks are more destabilising than the first. Without knowing who is behind them, the public is entitled to assume that Bridges is a victim of more disloyalty rather than a criminal act.

Bridges' default position is to hope that the firepower of his front bench overshadows the internal troubles and that the leaks dry up.

He will be praying for a long hot summer.