Simon Bridges on why he has no regrets ruling out Winston Peters

Peter Williams 10/02/2020

Simon Bridges says he feels vindicated by his decision to rule out working with Winston Peters following the New Zealand First leader's attitude towards him when they crossed paths at Waitangi.  

The National Party leader ruled out the possibility of working with NZ First just before politicians gathered at Waitangi last week, and Bridges says he felt more confident about it after seeing Peters there.  

"There was no small talk at all," Bridges told Magic Talk on Monday. "I suppose that's the way it goes. I think the reality is it tells me I made the right call."

Bridges and Peters have a history of exchanging jabs, and last week Peters criticised the speech Bridges delivered at Waitangi's upper marae claiming it was too "politicised". 

But despite the bad blood, Newshub's latest poll shows 42.7 percent of National voters would like the party to work with NZ First, compared to 40.9 percent who would not like that.  

The same poll found that 54.4 percent of NZ First voters would like the party to work with National, compared to 35.6 percent who oppose the idea. 

"I suppose the reality is, I've now made the decision," Bridges told Magic Talk. "Now that I've ruled out New Zealand First, people know they've got a very clear choice."

He said the "more interesting question" is what NZ First will do. 

"I think you can expect to see a stronger National Party post my decision and a New Zealand First party that continues to diminish in the polls."

The Newshub-Reid Research poll found that NZ First has 3.6 percent of the vote which is not enough to get into Parliament. At the 2017 election, NZ First got 7.20 percent of the vote giving them nine seats in Parliament.  

Former Prime Minister and National leader John Key ruled out working with Peters ahead of the 2008 election, and New Zealand First did not make it into Parliament that year. 

Bridges said he consulted with the National Party board and the National Party caucus before he made the decision to rule out working with Peters - but that ultimately it was his call. 

"Clearly it was what I wanted to do and ultimately I think you elect the leader of a party to make these sorts of calls," the Opposition leader said. 

"I talked with a number of my senior colleagues. I then did go to the board and there was unanimous agreement at the board-level.

"I then went to my caucus. We talked it over and I asked for comments on where I thought we should go. What I had was spontaneous applause."

Peters said in a statement last week he was "unfazed" by Bridges' decision. 

"Let me say this - he's got a lot to learn about politics," Peters said. "Narrowing your options can be the worst strategic move you will ever make."

Bridges said Peters held the country to "ransom" after the last election as the NZ First leader decided whether to give his seats to National or Labour to form a Government. 

"I think he thought he could do the same thing he did at the last election and pretend he was negotiating in good faith when he wasn't and hold the country to ransom for a long period of time," Bridges said. 

"Well, he's not going to get that opportunity this time."

If NZ First does not reach the 5 percent threshold at the election, the only way it will have a place in Parliament is if it wins a seat - and Shane Jones has announced plans to run for Northland. 

Prime Minister and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show she will not consider a deal with NZ First in Northland if it looks like the party will not reach 5 percent.   

The Prime Minister announced last month the election will be held on September 19.