National Party leadership: Don Brash rates ‘older, wiser’ Simon Bridges but says wide caucus support for a new leader is critical

Former National Party leader Don Brash says he believed Simon Bridges could well be a successful leader if he rose to the post again, but if Christopher Luxon clearly had the numbers against him a deal could be worth taking.

Brash said on Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast that he did not know Bridges’ rival for the post, Christopher Luxon, well but he did have a “high regard” for Bridges and considered him a person of “real integrity”.

He said Bridges was older and wiser now and had the character and qualifications to be a good leader.

However, he said if Luxon had a clear majority over Bridges in advance of the caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon they could come to an arrangement rather than take it to the vote. He said it was important to find someone with near unanimous support to try to fix the rifts in the caucus.

“I think the leader can make a huge difference, there is no doubt about that, and if they can find someone that the great majority endorse it will make an enormous difference.”

The NZ Herald understands Luxon has now secured more support than Bridges has. Reports on the extent of that lead differed depending which side of the battle was asked about it, but even Bridges’ team were conceding Luxon had the edge.

Luxon has not said anything publicly yet, responding to media queries by saying that out of respect for the process he would not talk until after Tuesday’s caucus meeting.

Bridges was being urged to talk to Luxon to come to an arrangement today rather than take it to a contest – it is understood Sir John Key has been among those urging Bridges to opt for a deal under Luxon.

However, that will depend on whether Bridges is certain he has been beaten and what Luxon is prepared to offer him and his supporters.

Luxon is likely to offer Bridges the number 3 ranking and finance portfolio but Luxon appears set to opt for a woman, possibly Nicola Willis, as his deputy.

Brash pointed to the arrangement between former PM John Key and Bill English after he had stepped down in November 2006, saying while Key clearly had more supporters English had still had a strong group of supporters.

“They got together and did a deal.”

Brash himself had taken on the leadership of the National Party in his first term as an MP, taking over from Bill English in 2003 after National’s disastrous 2002 election result.

He lifted National’s polling enough to come close to getting into Government in 2005.

Brash said it was a problem that people did not know Luxon well.

He said Luxon had a very successful commercial career, but had spent only a short time in politics.

“As had I, but I had been 14 years at the Reserve Bank, and while that is not Parliament it was close to Parliament. I understood a bit about the process and the procedures. Christopher doesn’t have that advantage.”

Brash said he had been pleased when Judith Collins became leader and thought she had done well at the start. “She was strong, she was clear. Something went wrong and I don’t know what it was.”

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