I don’t really know why - maybe it’s because it’s the start of election year - but the last week I’ve had a lot of texts coming into the show challenging me on something I said about Simon Bridges a few months back.
So let’s deal with that.
In October 2018, I said Simon Bridges feels like a placeholder leader. I didn’t think he was the right man for the job. Today, I still think the same thing.
I’ll give him credit. I’m as impressed as anyone at Simon Bridges’ stickability. He toughed it out, and that takes character, especially when the polls say that the vast majority of New Zealanders don’t warm to him.
He’s even managed to lift his popularity numbers from five to 10 per cent.
But 10 per cent in the preferred PM polls is not enough. And he’s only got slightly more than seven months to lift it to a respectable number.
And if you want to know what a respectable number is, look at John Key’s polling seven months out from the first election he won. In 2008, it was between 36 and 46 percent and regularly beating Helen Clark’s popularity.
Now, it might be tempting to look at National’s popularity and think that’s all that matter, because at the last poll last year the party was sitting on a comfortable 46 per cent.
That could fool you into thinking the leader doesn’t matter, but leaders matter. Show me the last election where an unpopular leader won.
Helen Clark in 1999? We like to quote that number but the truth is Helen Clark wasn’t unpopular in 1999: she was unpopular in 1996 and it took her three years to get her popularity up.
I don’t think National should assume that 46 per cent popularity is going to stick around.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many voters in that 46 per cent who are hoping for something to change. Maybe Simon to suddenly find his magic, or maybe a new leader.
I wouldn’t’ be surprised if they slow melt away to other parties that have leaders they like more, especially if Labour keep trying to poach National voters with policy like that infrastructure announcement.
And especially if National come up with such lame excuses like 'they stole our policy' that they look like they're still on holiday.
So, I still don’t think Simon is right guy for the job. I still think he’s a placeholder leader.