National leader Judith Collins has vowed to fight on as National leader, saying she will never resign from the job.
As speculation mounts of a leadership bid by former leader Simon Bridges, Collins said she would not step aside in the vein of former Labour leader Andrew Little, who resigned and allowed Jacinda Ardern to sweep the leadership.
Asked if she would ever resign as leader, Collins said she would not - not even if her party dipped below 20 per cent in the polls, a record low result for one of the two major parties.
Collins said she felt "very secure" in the leadership.
"I feel very secure in it and I know the caucus is working very hard with a common goal of holding this Government to account," she said.
In a 2018 interview, when she was vying for the leadership in the wake of Bill English's resignation, Collins said she would resign if her polling fell below 35 per cent.
"Once things start getting under 35 per cent people start saying 'can we win?' And I know I am putting a mark up there which at some stage in the future, if I am successful this time, that people will say 'well, you set that mark," Collins said in that interview.
Collins said then that caucus unity any new leader would get would depend on the polls.
"What you do is you show by results. If you can deliver in the polls, then you can deliver for that particular caucus. And if you deliver, strangely enough you get there," she said.
She said she was not worried about being rolled as leader. She had not had any conversations with caucus about polling and leadership following last week's polls.
National dropped to just 21 per cent in a Taxpayers' Union Curia poll taken earlier this month.
National had also dropped back slightly in a Talbot Mills (formerly UMR) poll taken at the start of the lockdown period, and Collins was under pressure over her handling of the lockdown periods.
Collins cast some aspersion on those pollsters, saying that while polls do go up and down most pollsters would refuse to poll during a level 4 lockdown.
"I do not worry about things like polls, because they go up and down and most pollsters would refuse to poll during a level 4 lockdown," Collins said.
On Tuesday morning, Bridges arrived back at Parliament saying he has "no intention to seek the leadership" of the party but that it has to front up to its bad performance in the polls.
Bridges is among the non-Auckland MPs arriving back at Parliament this week after very limited numbers were allowed in during the lockdown periods.
Bridges acknowledged there had been bad polls.
"I think National has to own those polls. I don't think we should be over-reacting to them."
"It is not my intention to seek the leadership of the National Party. I've said repeatedly over this year that I support Judith Collins, and the caucus has been working hard to support Judith too."
Asked if he would step up if MPs asked him to, Bridges said, "I am not seeking the leadership of the National Party. I can't be clearer than that."
He denied his allies were doing the numbers for him. MPs have told the NZ Herald that Bridges is the most likely person to take over from Collins this term – and a move could be made before the end of the year.
Asked about Collins' most recent incident of failing to wear a mask while at the counter of an icecream shop in Queenstown, Bridges said Collins had "owned up to that".
"She's made clear what her position is, and that's where it ends."
Bridges arrived at Parliament wearing a mask, and made sure he was allowed to remove it for the interview and that media were standing well back from him before doing so.
One of Collins' allies, Maureen Pugh, also arrived back that morning, accusing media of "making up" leadership speculation. Asked if she thought Collins would resign, Pugh said "no, because I think the whole story has been made up by [media]. It's not real."