National Leader Simon Bridges has confirmed two MPs will challenge him for leadership

The AM Show 20/05/2020

Two National MPs are looking to challenge Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett for the leadership of the National Party, Bridges says.

"There is a focus on the leadership of the National Party. I understand that two of my colleagues will challenge, want to and seek to challenge, Paula Bennett and I for the leadership and the deputy leadership of the National Party," he told The AM Show.

He refused to name the two colleagues, how he came to know of the challenge, if he had spoken to the MPs, or when they will announce their run for the top jobs.

"I think it is for them to state their leadership intentions. I want to give them the dignity of being able to make their statements," Bridges said.

Bridges called for the issue to be resolved quickly so the focus can get back on Kiwis. He said he will put his leadership to the test by Tuesday at the latest.

"I am very confident that I will win, but I do want to put it to the test as I say, so we can quickly resolve this and get back to the things that matters for New Zealanders.

"The overwhelming majority of our caucus is focused on those things I have been talking about, our economic future as a country, jobs, growth."

It follows a poor poll for the National Party on Monday. The Newshub-Reid-Research poll found the party only had support of 30.6 percent of respondents, well below Labour on 56.5 percent.

In terms of preferred Prime Minister stakes, Jacinda Ardern is at 59.5 percent, while Bridges is at 4.5 percent.

The poll immediately sparked leadership questions. 

Hamilton East MP David Bennett received an email on Monday night obtained by Newshub. The sender's email subject line said: "Time to roll Simon. Landslide loss in September otherwise". Bennett replied: "Yeah working on it."

Other MPs spoke to Newshub on Tuesday.

MP Judith Collins, considered a potential frontrunner for the leadership, told Newshub on Tuesday Bridges was "very hardworking" with a "quality of tenacity which is admirable". Asked if she was considering a tilt at the leadership before the election, Collins said: "I've got no intention of doing any such thing."

Former National Prime Minister Jim Bolger has said he would prefer MP Todd Muller as leader over Collins. 

"Todd worked in my office when I was Prime Minister, worked with me as a councillor on the university council at Waikato. He's a businessman of significant experience working with the biggest company - Fonterra - working with Zespri the kiwifruit exporter and so on," he told RNZ.

"He has a different range of skills, but they're going to be the totally relevant skills going forward."

Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien told The AM Show on Tuesday that MPs have been waiting for a public poll to validate their concerns. The National caucus hasn't been shown internal polls since February, Newshub understands. 

"They have really been waiting for this moment. MPs who normally talk to us on the quiet as protective sources, anonymously, they were brazenly coming into our office in front of strangers to them, talking about the leadership, talking about whether he would be rolled, talking about how they were not doing the numbers when they were quite clearly doing the numbers, but they were waiting for these numbers," O'Brien said.

"These numbers are bad news for Bridges. They don't get any worse."