Simon Bridges denies claims National want to oust him as leader

The AM Show 22/04/2020

National Party leader Simon Bridges is fending off rumours of a leadership coup, saying he is instead focused on New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AM Show understands that rumours are swirling about a leadership coup, with a potential challenge from MP Mark Mitchell and deputy National Party leader Paula Bennett. That follows a flood of negative comments aimed at Bridges' response to the Government's decision to leave lockdown next Monday.

A Facebook post from the leader has been overwhelmingly negatively received based on how people reacted to the statement and the nearly 30,000 comments. Newshub found some of those expressing praise for the Government in the comment section were National supporters. 

"My National vote is quickly turning because of your attitude Simon Bridges. You are acting like a child," a Christchurch man wrote in the comment section. "Your days are numbered as leader. Every time you open your mouth you are losing voters."

On Wednesday morning, Bridges was asked by The AM Show's Duncan Garner for his reaction to the rumours. 

"No, I think you and I know the blessing of being an Opposition leader is to have these sort of stories from time to time," Bridges replied.

He was then asked if it was possible he just wasn't aware of a potential leadership challenge.

"I certainly don't know and I don't think any of that is true. I think it started online and I can sorta see how that comes from a left-wing blogger and that is the way these things go," Bridges said.

Garner replied by saying that typically the leader is the last to know in a coup.

"Still the answer is no," Bridges added.

The Opposition leader said he speaks to Bennett and Mitchell regularly each day and he was sure he wasn't being rolled.

Bennett tweeted on Wednesday morning that speculation was based on people being bored.

"I get people are bored & looking for entertainment but false speculating on the leadership of the Nat party has no factual basis. Can’t believe a tweet from a known stirring leftie is getting any pick up! Move on, we back Simon. We have a health crises & an economy to fix," she said.

Instead of being distracted by rumoured internal machinations in the National Party, Bridges said he was focused on responding to COVID-19. 

"I know where we are at and I know the feedback that I am getting and Members of Parliament are getting. You talked about that online thing where people will have their views, and look that is fair enough, but I can tell you, on the other side of it, it is more than matched by the tens of thousands who have come to me on quarantining and our petition," he said

"Hundreds each day, small business owners, who sit there, they understand the issue of COVID-19, and how serious it is, but they sit there and one of them said 'why are we the sacrificial lambs from a longer lockdown, from the uncertainty, from the costs we are facing?'"

He said that since sharing his Facebook post, which criticised the Government for not using the lockdown period to "ensure best practise of testing and tracing and the availability of PPE", the Auditor-General has announced an investigation into PPE stock management and a report has been released critical of the country's capacity to contact trace.

Bridges told The AM Show if he was Prime Minister he would have brought the country out of lockdown and moved quickly towards a level 2 scenario.