• Simon Bridges’ Bad Luck

    In the British House of Commons, Government Ministers sit on the “front bench”, and, as they rise to speak from the Despatch Box, they are compelled to face the serried ranks of the Opposition.

    The story goes that a young Minister, about to speak from the Despatch Box for the first time, confessed to the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, that he was nervous about speaking, with “the enemy” directly in front of him.

    “They are not your enemies, they are your opponents,” Macmillan assured him. “Your enemies are behind you.”

    Someone who will know the truth of that observation, without doubt, is Simon Bridges. As a recent opinion poll shows not only that his rating as preferred Prime Minister remains worryingly low, but also that National has slipped considerably in party support, he can almost hear the vultures wheeling above and behind him.

    He has little to fear from his opponents in government who will no doubt be happy to see him remain as National leader until the election is out of the way. The real threat to his leadership will come from those seated behind him.

    There is nothing surprising about this scenario. What is surprising, however, is that he is so lacking in the necessary instinct for self-preservation that he does not learn from his mistakes.

    It is only a week or so ago that he provoked an angry backlash, even from his own supporters, for remarks he made that were seen as disturbing and breaking ranks with the national consensus as to the best way to fight the pandemic.

    Yet he was at it again just a few days later, provoking the same reaction, and producing yet another round of speculation about his leadership.

    It is almost as though his anxiety about maintaining his position leads him to cast all calm judgment and good sense aside. He is by all accounts doing a good job as chair of the “scrutiny” committee set up to hold the government to account. And he is entitled, as Leader of the Opposition, to ask searching and critical questions of the government.

    But he seems to lack a “feel” for the national mood. That mood is one of determination to work together and to make the necessary sacrifices so that the crisis can be brought to an end and we can return to normal as soon as possible.

    Almost everyone – apart from a couple of high-profile exceptions, sniping from the fringes – understands that to relax too soon, in the supposed interests of the economy and small businesses in particular, would be to risk not only a further substantial round of cases and deaths, but also a prolongation of the lockdowns and therefore the prospect of even more economic damage.

    The lockdowns have had an adverse impact on virtually all of us – some, of course, more than others. We will all be glad to see them behind us. Inevitably, there are those who will see only the impact on them personally and who, without realising what others are also going through, will be quick to claim that they are suffering unduly or unfairly.

    Fortunately for us as a nation, there is plenty of evidence that the course we are following is paying off. Of course, there have been and will be occasional and minor hiccups in what has been a hugely complex medical and organisational effort, but we can be sure that the figures do not lie when they show that we have done better than probably any other country.

    And, in case we are in any doubt about this, the international media coverage has been unanimous in congratulating us on our efforts to bring the rate of new cases and deaths under something approaching control – and they have been equally quick to recognise the excellent leadership provided to us.

    And it is on this latter point that Simon Bridges’ vulnerability is at its most acute. He has had the great misfortune to have to shadow a Prime Minister who, by common and universal consent, has played a blinder. That is his bad luck – but the rest of us can be glad that it is so.

    Bryan Gould
    5 May 2020