COMMENT: By David Cormack
Murmurings. It's the murmurings that'll get you.
Whenever a leader of a political party is rolled, it's not usually a big terrible event that brings them down, but rather a cumulation of many bad events. Followed by holding two fish up in Parliament.
Simon Bridges had a couple of bad events last week when Newshub revealed in its poll that not only is National dropping further behind Labour in party preference, but he is not even the most popular National Party MP for Prime Minister.
Inside National, they were more confused by the poll result than anything. Their internal poll has them ahead of Labour. Except for that to be true then the entire margin of error for Newshub's poll would have to be in favour of National and against Labour. Possible, but statistically unlikely.
Labour's internal polling also has them much closer than Newshub though National still not ahead. So National is not taking a bath in the polling, but probably more of a birdbath.
All of this is a continuation of a series of unfortunate events for the leadership of Bridges. A man who seems to live the sad experience of being less liked the more well known he becomes. So much so, that National has resorted to using an animated caricature of him instead of the actual man to front online ads.
Newshub's poll wasn't just a case of National's numbers dropping, but now a clear replacement is emerging in Judith Collins. While Collins was only just ahead of Bridges in the preferred Prime Minister polling, you only have to ask Andrew Little how awkward it is when you're the leader of the party but there's someone else in your party that the public would rather see in charge.
This is not to say that National is going to rush out and replace Bridges with Collins tomorrow. Far from it. One poll does not drive a leader out. But I'm told that many in National's caucus have been coming round to the idea of a Collins-led party. A lot of the MPs who backed Amy Adams at the last leadership race are now said to be swinging in behind her.
And Collins' ascendancy is occurring while she's not doing anything to position herself as leader. Publicly anyway. Since a terrible showing in last year's leadership race, she's spent the year relentlessly hounding Phil Twyford, leaping all over KiwiBuild as it stumbles from public misstep to public misstep. Many in National's caucus, particularly those from the 2014 and 2017 intake, are seeing her as an effective MP, one who delivers results and gets the best of Labour.
There's also a sense that there needs to be a culture change at the top. That the Old Boy's Network mentality that has ruled over National for so long is now hurting them. And while having Paula Bennett as deputy leader is good gender balance, Bennett is seen as having handled the Jami-Lee Ross issue terribly, hanging several women out to dry, and creating a cluster fuss with her line about Ross' behaviour being inappropriate for a "married member of Parliament".
Many in National are also said to be concerned at how much power Ross has over Bridges. Having been Bridges' numbers man at the last leadership race, Ross knows every bit of grime, every dodgy promise that Bridges would have made to gain support.
Concern with Bridges' leadership isn't even being hidden. Northland's Matt King said that he's "happy with Simon, I'd be happy with Judith", while Nuk Korako said "there's a number of people who would make a good leader, we'll just see".
It used to be that unfettered fealty to the leader was the order of the day, but now National MPs seem either so worried, or so emboldened, that they can talk openly about other people being leader.
It's been a chorus sung by many in the media for a long time, that Bridges is only a placeholder. And that drum is continuing to beat, it's just now that beat is echoing through National's caucus too and being heard by those on the outside.