National leader Simon Bridges has received public backing from his deputy this morning, after rumours his leadership was on shaky ground following a controversial Facebook post.
Bridges has been forced to defend himself after facing a flurry of online fury over the post about the Government's decision to extend the level 4 lockdown.
The Facebook post has attracted more than 16,000 reactions – many of them negative - and the Opposition leader has been facing speculation from some in the media that his job might be on the line.
National's deputy leader Paula Bennett denied reports on Wednesday that she might be lining up with Mark Mitchell to take over the leadership.
"I get people are bored & looking for entertainment but false speculating on the leadership of the Nat party has no factual basis," wrote Bennett on Twitter. "Can't believe a tweet from a known stirring leftie is getting any pick up! Move on, we back Simon. We have a health crises & an economy to fix."
Bridges has also denied any leadership issues and was quick to defend his Facebook post, saying there are "a bunch of different views" online.
When pressed on the negative reactions, he said people were entitled to have their own views.
In the post, Bridges was critical of the Government's level of preparedness when it comes to coming out of the lockdown on Monday.
He said if the Government had done more work while the country was in lockdown, there would be no need for it to be extended.
"I now worry that the harm of staying in lockdown will be greater than if we were to come out," he said in the post.
He added that: "We will no doubt see a rise in mental health problems and stress-related illnesses."
This was an area where many who commented on the post took issue.
One user accused the National Leader of "nit-picking criticisms".
"I just don't think you have any empathy and only care about the economy."
Another said Bridges' post was "tone-deaf".
"[I've] been a National voter my whole life but just can't bring myself to vote for you to be our Prime Minister."
When asked about the post and the feedback, Bridges brushed it off.
He said many New Zealanders agree with what he had to say.
"I'm sure many Kiwis feel frustration that we still can't do many things Australians have done through the entire lockdown period, at great cost in terms of jobs and livelihoods, with similar health outcomes.
"I now worry that the harm of staying in lockdown will be greater than if we were to come out. We will no doubt see a rise in mental health problems and stress-related illnesses."
Some of the commenters claimed to be National supporters who have given up supporting the party because of Bridges' leadership.