COMMENT:

When the National Party MPs turn up at caucus today it will be something of an alien landscape for them.

At long last, there is a crack in the party's formidable discipline.

That crack was delivered by MP Jami-Lee Ross, who stands accused not only of leaking against leader Simon Bridges but other unspecified offences including disloyalty.

Advertisement

The MPs have little choice in what happens now: Ross has to be suspended from caucus at the least.

Ross himself has made it easier for the caucus to do that.

Many MPs are already bridling because they had to put up with investigators trawling over their email and phone logs in a bid to pinpoint the leak.

Senior MP Judith Collins was the most outspoken about this, saying those MPs could have been spared an invasion of privacy had Ross fronted up and backing Bridges' decision to take action.

If there was any residual sympathy, Ross likely lost it yesterday morning when he issued a string of tweets railing against Bridges and issuing what can only be seen as threats.

Those tweets claimed to have a recording of Bridges asking him to do something "illegal" around election donations – a claim Bridges' denies – and saying he would speak out in the coming days.

Those tweets alone are reason enough for the caucus to kick him out, whether or not he was responsible for leaking details about Bridges' travel costs.

Bridges will give a spiel to caucus but Ross' tweets have meant he barely needs to.

Bridges needs to cauterise it as cleanly as possible. But Bridges will feel some relief – not least because for the moment it seems Ross was a lone wolf.

Ross could well release a firestorm on him if those recordings do contain something improper, but Bridges was clearly not worried enough about it to stop him acting in response to the thinly veiled blackmail attempt.

It will also leave National an MP down, unless Ross opts to leave Parliament altogether and National wins a by-election.

If Bridges can successfully cauterise it, it should serve as a cautionary lesson to the rest of caucus.

Behind them is a nine-year long example of what happens in an election year to an Opposition which has spent the preceding three years eating itself up.

The result is usually an election result starting with the number 2.

Yesterday served up a plate of deja vu to Labour onlookers, who went through the same attempts to wrestle with the whispering, speculation, undermining and early obituaries as Bridges now faces.

There is so far little evidence of wider cracks in National, but Bridges' personal rankings will be under scrutiny and some of his judgment calls questioned.

He is very much the little boy with the finger in the dyke.

Ironically the judgement calls most under question were those precipitated by Ross himself.