Jami-Lee Ross did the National Party one favour as he resigned yesterday. By making his resignation when he did - while the rest of the National caucus were meeting to decide his fate - he showed fairly conclusively he has been alone in his falling out with its leader.
Ross must have known he had no supporters in the caucus room, no one who would argue he should be given a break, no chance of being thrown a lifeline to save his political career. He knew he was going to get the heaviest penalty a party can deliver, expulsion from its caucus, so he decided to jump before he was pushed.
Considering the allegations he had made against Simon Bridges and his threats to reveal more, the caucus could hardly have done less. Allegations of unlawful practices to do with electoral donations eclipsed the expenses leak for which Ross might have been exiled from the front bench for a while. And the threat to reveal more left the caucus with no option. Anything less than expulsion would have suggested the caucus had reason to fear his threat.
Ross did not wait to see whether caucus feared it. He called a press conference yesterday after the caucus meeting had begun, to deliver on the threat. He accused Bridges of falsifying the name of a donor to the National Party and claimed Bridges had asked him to collect a $100,000 donation that was then split into smaller amounts to hide the donor's identity on election returns. Ross even named the alleged donor.
Bridges called the accusations "baseless" and "entirely false" and invited Ross to take them to the police, which Ross says he will do today. He has a recording of a conversation with Bridges that he wants the police to hear. So this saga is by no means over for the National Party and its leader.
Bridges now has more reason than ever to regret making so much of an expenses leak that would have been forgotten in three days. The police must now investigate the alleged breaches of electoral finance law and thorough investigations take some time. Ross is leaving a potential explosive in Bridges' path to the next election that could blow up at any time in the next two years.
That is assuming Bridges survives to the election. Rivals for the leadership last year, Amy Adams, Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell, clearly have no truck with Ross. Bridges is still in his first year as leader and perhaps they have forgiven him one mistake. But it was a big mistake. His decision to pursue the expenses leak was a misjudgment that was bound to become compounded at every turn.
It was such a basic political mistake that it remains inexplicable. Bridges is still young but he has been in Parliament long enough, under leaders of sound political judgment, to have dealt with the expenses leak internally. Good judgment is the quality the country needs most in anyone who seeks to lead it. Unless Simon Bridges can quickly put Ross' parting allegations to rest, his leadership might not survive this debacle.