It's often been said that being the leader of the Opposition is the toughest job in politics.

During her six years in the job Helen Clark once confided how tough it was, saying that before taking out the ultimate prize she rarely got the opportunity to smile. When it's your job to oppose there's usually not a lot to smile about.

Jacinda Ardern can count herself lucky because her leadership in Opposition was essentially confined to running an election campaign.


That's a luxury Simon Bridges will of course never experience and chances of him going on to claim the role he so desperately covets are becoming more remote by the day.

You know a leader's in trouble when he starts talking about discipline and unity in his party, even if Bridges says it's the media's fault for constantly raising it.

But he came away from a regional party conference in Hamilton over the weekend with a pretty clear message: Take the fight to the Government, stop the squabbling from within and get back to what National stands for. On that front the best Bridges could do was to castigate Corrections for buying a million dollars worth of slushy machines for overheated guards.

He does acknowledge though that the party membership expects better, but unfortunately for him he's going to find that difficult to deliver given the damage that has been done since he took over the leadership from Bill English in February last year.

Lately Bridges has been describing the coalition Government as a shiny new car that's losing its lustre and getting a few dings on the way, like KiwiBuild and ditching the possibility of a capital gains tax.

In Bridges' case the car's a rather unfortunate analogy - given that the woman who wants to occupy the driver's seat was known for crushing them, even if Judith Collins never got the chance herself to put even one through the compressor.

Collins has been keeping her head down while others dig the potholes for Bridges to negotiate. And even though she is happy to sit in the back seat for the time being, she has her eye firmly on the steering wheel.

There'll be a lot of talk from the top table at today's National Party caucus meeting about discipline and loyalty, driven by leadership loyalist Todd McClay, and Collins is likely to be caught in the headlight glare.


It'll take all her skills to gently remind her colleagues who has been the driver and who's got National into the damaged state it finds itself in today.

And Bridges isn't doing himself any favours by refusing to say publicly whether he trusts Collins. He trusts all his colleagues, he insists. It's doubtful though whether that trust in the end will be reciprocated.