Tauranga's MP rises to the top

New National Party leader Simon Bridges walks out of a caucus meeting with his deputy Paula Bennett.

Nearly 10 years ago he was ranked 51st on the National Party list and preparing to take on Winston Peters in Tauranga.

Now, Simon Bridges is the 12th leader of the party he first joined as a teenager in 1992.

It took his caucus colleagues only two rounds of voting to pick him from a line-up consisting of himself and four other candidates, including party veterans Judith Collins and Steven Joyce.

“Growing up in Te Atatu with a Pakeha mum and Maori dad, I never thought I’d have this opportunity to make such a difference to the lives of New Zealanders,” he said on Tuesday, at a press conference to announce his leadership.

Media speculation around predecessor Bill English’s positon as leader began in early February, when it was rumoured members of caucus were seeking to replace him.

At the time Simon was touted as a potential replacement, and the fact he was hosting colleagues at a caucus retreat in Tauranga soon after seemed to cement him as a power player within the party.

He was a crown prosecutor for many years in Tauranga before becoming an MP, and started his family here with wife Natalie, whom he met while they were both studying in Oxford. They have two sons, Emlyn and Harry, as well as new addition Jemima, who was born in December.

Speaking to The Weekend Sun last year, Simon said it was a ‘now or never’ moment for him when he stood for parliament in 2008.

“If I hadn’t taken the chance then, I probably never would have,” he says. “Some people thought I was too young, or an unknown. But I beat Winston, just as Bob Clarkson had. So I don’t regret taking the risk at all.”

Now he’s the leader of the opposition and, potentially, the country’s next prime minister – a role he’s confident he’ll assume in 2020.

“Our caucus has an incredible depth of talent and abundant energy, which is why we continue to enjoy so much support,” he says.

“New Zealanders believe in our vision for New Zealand and in our team.”


Political history

Simon Bridges first became an MP in 2008, when he successfully beat off an attempted comeback by Winston Peters, the former Tauranga MP who was rolled by National’s Bob Clarkson in 2005.

Simon benefited from the massive swing away from Helen Clark’s Labour to John Key’s National, winning more than 21,000 votes and increasing the party vote in the electorate by 10 per cent.

In 2011 he retained his seat, increasing his share of the candidate vote to 61 per cent.

This fell slightly in 2014 and 2017, but since being elected Simon has been able to count on steady support from more than 20,000 voters in his electorate.

In 2012 he received his first ministerial responsibilities as Minister for Consumer Affairs, Associate Minister of Transport and Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues. In 2013 he was invited into cabinet and became Minister of Labour and Minister of Energy and Resources, losing some of his lesser portfolios.

In 2014 he became Minister for Transport - a role he held until National’s defeat in the 2017 election.