National Party leader Simon Bridges has set himself a target of getting back into Government in 2020 but his more immediate challenge is dealing with two of the rivals for the leadership, Judith Collins and Steven Joyce.
Bridges was elected leader of the National Party yesterday in the second round of voting and after the last-minute decision by Mark Mitchell to withdraw from the race.
He said he expected to do a reshuffle in the next fortnight and that will be a critical step in getting the party on track, although he has a limited number of front-bench posts with which to do so.
That will include addressing the issue of Steven Joyce who played a key role in National's campaign strategy and policy direction under former PM John Key and Bill English but now risks being sidelined. Joyce is likely to want to keep the finance portfolio but that too is in question.
Some MPs in National believe Joyce could leave if he is sidelined and Bridges will have to weigh up what the risks of that are.
Bridges would not say if Joyce would keep his current portfolio of finance, but said Joyce would be offered a "strong role" if he wanted it.
Asked if National could survive with Joyce, Bridges said it was a long-standing party.
"National has been stronger than any one person, whether that is John Key, whether that is Bill English. But what is true about Steven is he's got great skills and experience and it would be great to those retained within caucus in a significant role."
He said Collins would also be offered a good role.
"Judith and I have a great relationship, I accept her skills as a strong person in Opposition with a great brand."
Joyce and Collins both said they accepted caucus' decision to elect Bridges.
Joyce said caucus was "absolutely" united. He did not know if he would keep finance. "I don't want to put pressure on him through the media this afternoon. I look forward to discussing it with the new leader."
Collins has also made it clear she expects a good position, and has pointed to her public support and support among wider party members.
She would not say what positions she wanted, saying it was the leader's prerogative to make those decisions.
Amy Adams is likely to get finance while Collins, a hard-liner on law and order, would be useful in a portfolio such as Police or Corrections. Law and order is shaping up to be one of the areas in which Labour and National will differ the most and Labour has signalled it intends to overhaul sentencing and crime legislation as part of its attempt to reduce the prison population.
Collins could also be in line for a portfolio that would allow her to pit herself against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, such as child poverty.
Bridges will also have the job of trying to stop National's support levels bleeding away to Labour – or he could face a challenge himself.
During the campaign, Collins set a benchmark of 35 per cent in the polls for a leader.
Bridges said he had not thought about that and was focusing on making sure National was working well internally, holding the government to account and developing policies.
"Obviously we'll see the polls, we'll see what they do. What really matters is in 2020 we've developed what's required to be the most exciting team and political party in New Zealand."
Former Prime Minister Sir John Key said Bridges had a big job ahead of him but National would be a formidable opposition.
"He's always mastered every challenge he has faced and not withstanding this is a big one I confident he will rise to the challenge."
Bridges promised to modernise the party, but not undertake a radical overhaul of its underlying principles and direction. He would focus more on the environment than at present but believed its economic policies were sound.
Bridges said he was not daunted at having to follow on from the highly popular Key and Bill English. "I think though there is a responsibility on me to make sure I am known in New Zealand, they do understand who I am, what my values are and the kind of National Party I'll be leading."
He would open his life to an extent to allow that to happen.
Throughout history, the first leader of a party which has just gone into Opposition has not fared well, but Bridges said the fate of those leaders did not worry him. He said National was in the unique position of being strong and had a chance to win in 2020 if it offered an "upbeat" option to the public.
Asked how he would puncture Ardern's popularity, he said former Prime Minister John Key was popular but that was backed up by a strong team and policies.
"What we've got here is underneath Jacinda Ardern a very weak Government that doesn't hang together well in terms of the parties on either side, and a lack of strong direction."
How the vote went down
Although Bridges said he was confident heading into caucus, he said later he did not know he had the leadership in the bag until the second round of votes came through.
Mark Mitchell had told close supporters and his rivals of his decision to withdraw prior to the caucus meeting. It is understood he had realised he would not win and while he had some supporters, he did not want the voting to go through to a third or fourth round of voting.
While Bridges did not have the 29 votes needed to win in the first round of voting, he won on the second round.
It is understood Judith Collins had the least support of the four candidates remaining and was knocked out after the first vote. While voting numbers are not revealed to caucus, that indicates Bridges must have come close in the first round.
Bennett was rewarded by being elected deputy, despite a campaign against her by unnamed members of caucus in some media outlets. Collins is also understood to have nominated herself as deputy but was defeated by Bennett.
Bridges arrived at Parliament at about 8.30am and was confident enough to bring his wife Natalie to Wellington if he was the winner. He was the only one of the five happy to talk to media on the way into Parliament, including posing for an extended period with his fingers crossed.