I spent years hanging out with gangs and outlaw motorcycle clubs. It was a research project that gave my liver a fair working over, worried all hell out of my mother and ended with a book that Simon Bridges has almost certainly not read.
Given that gangs have become so central to National's law and order policies, you'd think he might be wise to. But he needn't bother.
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Bridges has a problem, but it's not the gangs.
Bridges wants to be prime minister. And chances are he'll only have one shot at it, and that's a mighty big problem.
Given that, Bridges is taking a path both well trodden and successful. Target the gangs! It's a winning formula, so good on him. If I was in his position, I might do the same thing. I'd love to think I'd be better than that, but there's a chance I wouldn't be. I might rationalise it as being a slight betrayal for a much bigger good. That good being power.
Labour's Norman Kirk was the first to successfully take on the gangs. In opposition, he promised to take the bikes of the bikies. And he got it bang-on. In 1972 he was the prime minister.
The fact that Kirk failed to take the bikes of the bikies is neither here nor there. In opposition you can make bold claims and they appeal to the public. It works. Bravo!
And while the Left might be tempted to frame this as a predictable continuation of contemporary right-wing politics, it is actually a sharp shift. The National Party in recent times, largely driven by Bill English, either as leader or as Finance Minister, and bolstered by Amy Adams, had a different approach. And that was a realistic and risky one. That being that having a crack at something that might actually work is more important than politics. Their record on that is solid.
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Before English and Adams and for a number of years, National were terrible. And Labour were awful on the same count. The current Auckland mayor Phil Goff and former albeit fleeting prime minister Mike Moore (while both were in opposition) were among the worst.
Indeed, in 2016 (while in opposition), the current police minister Stuart Nash said that he would "smash the gangs".
This was the talk called penal populism, an epoch defined by the worst of all politics.
Given this, my opinion of Bridges' policy here should be obvious, but I have no interest in critiquing it. I'm realistic enough to appreciate that most people reading this will have views that will never be swayed by whatever facts or reason I can present. Some will jump straight to calling me an apologist for the gangs, because that's easier than thinking.
On the other side, others will think that not much more than a hug and a kiss cures the ills of people who don't care a damn about being trouble. They think that because they are a million miles out of touch.
So, no, I'm not interested in entering the debate – it's as predictable as it is boring. I'm here to record my observation of it. The question for me at this point is: Will Bridges' approach actually work?
Given it has successfully worked time and time again, one should conclude that it will. But there's an outside chance that it won't.
In large part because of Bill English, and carried on by Andrew Little, ideas around crime and justice have transformed. The costs – both social and fiscal – of unthinking "tough on crime" methods are now well recognised, if not always well appreciated.
I was overseas when National's new/old approach launched, but from what I've caught up with in the media, the questioning of the Bridges' plan was unusually critical. Perhaps only rivalled by the debate around the gang patch ban championed by the then mayor of Whanganui, Michael Laws, in 2006. As a rough enough rule of thumb, any time you're on the same page as Michael Laws, you're almost certainly reading the wrong book.
Two things assisted Laws' effort when it went to parliament in 2008. One was the tragic death of a child in a drive-by gang shooting in 2007. There was no logical argument offered suggesting the shooting could have in any way been prevented by the proposed patch ban, but it was enough to give the idea emotional capital. The second thing that assisted the law was an abrupt turnaround by the ACT party. Then-leader Rodney Hide said the legislation would have no palpable effect of gang crime, undermined fundamental freedoms, and his party would "never" support the law before subsequently allowing it to pass for the sake of coalition arrangement in 2009.
In other words, it was assisted purely by politics.
And the politics here are fascinating. Pivoting his party so consciously away from the principled and pragmatic ideas of Bill English to the so obviously populist might be one big gang incident away from being the smartest political move Simon Bridges could ever make.
But given its obvious predictability, it's hardly a reflection of great leadership.
No, no, no, this is not a test of him - it's a test of us.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is the Director of Criminal Justice at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions.