Claire Trevett: Simon Bridges tries to woo Nat supporters
It was at a public meeting in Wellington this week that National Party leader Simon Bridges revealed he had found something of a kindred spirit in Sir Rob Muldoon.
The meeting was held as part of his nation-wide tour of public meetings.
There is something pitiful about leaders of the Opposition on these tours, however noble the efforts to let people "get to know" them.
There is a bit of a sense of a dead-man-walking about them, despite efforts to jolly them up on occasion by hauling in props such as guitars, singing MPs and buses.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
In the past they have been undertaken by former Labour leaders Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little.
Due to her late ascendancy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's tour consisted of the 2017 election campaign and ended rather differently to those of her prede cessors.
But Bridges believes he is in a different position to those former Labour leaders.
The difference is the number 4.
Earlier in the week, two polls (One News' Colmar Brunton and Newshub's Reid Research) came out.
Bridges was at just 9 and 12 per cent as preferred PM and well down on Ardern in the 40s. But National's polling was rock steady on 45.
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In Opposition, Labour struggled to get into the 30s.
National's support levels haven't barely budged since before 2008. They have the same stick ability factor as dog poo on a shoe.
No matter how hard Labour scrubs, it sticks in there.
It is here Muldoon comes in. One of National's stalwarts had pointed Bridges to the Labour Government of 1972 to 1975. It was the last time there was a one-term government in New Zealand.
National was led by Sir Robert Muldoon and Labour was in Government under Norman Kirk and then Bill Rowling after Kirk's death.
Bridges has decided the parallels include international volatility (Britain had just entered the EU) but the main ones were that Labour's ranks were inexperienced and it was up against a strong Opposition.
He quickly added that he was not claiming to be like Muldoon, but the parallels showed a one-term government was a possibility.
He even referred to the Dancing Cossacks ad - the animated "attack ads" National took out to depict Labour as communists because of its compulsory superannuation policy.
He to ld those there National would have to do some Dancing Cossack ads, but would also deliver a policy package for voters.
The Dancing Cossacks-style ad came the very next day. It was an ad on social media with ominous lighting and music and a prison door slamming shut. "Violent criminals, Labour wants to let them out."
It is a rather simplistic paraphrasing of Labour's plans to reform bail, parole and sentencing laws in a bid to reduce the prison muster.
But the public meetings have been a useful way to road test lines that resonate.
Different issues resonate in different regions. He was asked about climate change a lot in Wellington but not at all in Gore. Others resonate wherever he goes. The crime line is the lead example.
Labour's proposals may end up being moderate. But all it will take is one serious crime by somebody who would have otherwise been locked up and Labour is facing a political nightmare.
It doesn 9;t take science to compute that a campaign of "let them out" does not win elections.
So Bridges raises it everywhere and there are murmurs of approval.
The poll results will have Labour puzzling over just how it can crack open National's stranglehold on those voters.
The question Labour will be asking is why they haven't been able to snaffle more of that centre ground from National when National is meant to be at an ebb and Labour at a flow.
This will be even more puzzling for them given Ardern has reached John Key levels of popularity in the 40s, while Bridges languishes around 10.
National are relying on fear and loathing to hold their support up.
At the moment, the fear side consists of dangerous criminals roaming around the countryside having been let out the side doors of prisons by Labour in its bid to reduce the prison population.
The loathing side is catered for by taxes (hello Auckland fuel tax) and Pe ters.
Bridges restricts his own comments on Peters to an occasional wee jab delivered with a smile. They usually get a titter or two.
But for a while now National has been calling the Labour-NZ First coalition government (Peters' preferred title) the "Ardern- Peters" Government, to remind people that Peters is in there.
Now Ardern is on the brink of handing over to Peters for six weeks while she cares for baby, it has taken to describing Peters as "Incoming Prime Minister Winston Peters."
It is a way of reminding its supporters of Peters' treachery to National and the wider public that a man with about seven per cent support was in the role of Prime Minister.
Bridges also has to address his own personal polling. A charitable soul would say Bridges' lack of traction was simply that the jury was still out on Bridges. That may indeed be the case given National's party polling has remained high.
It indic ates while National supporters are not out in the streets holding ticker tape parades for him, they are not so resistant to him as to abandon the party.
It is why Bridges has put so much attention on this period of his tenure.
He was deprived of the honeymoon that some new leaders enjoy, drowned out by Ardern's new Government and baby.
That will continue for some time so Bridges has set out to create one for himself to haul up that preferred PM rating.
Bridges' road trip is in the first year of a new government, yet there is something of a feel of the urgency of the campaign about them.
He has attracted decent-sized crowds, indicating there is at least some curiosity about him.
There has been advertising in newspapers and radio. National has already isolated the three areas it will relentlessly target Labour on. They are the economy, the cost of living and law and order.
To put the polls in context, almost every secon d person you talk to is statistically likely to be a National voter.
The reason for the urgency is that slightly more than every second person is likely to be a Labour, Green or NZ First voter.
To even hold on to his 45 per cent, those voters will need to know there is a chance National will get into government.
So a large part of Bridges' patter was insisting Labour was not unassailable and National had a real chance.
The main problem was pointed out in rather blunt fashion by somebody at the Wellington meeting: he has no friends to get him over the 'every second person' threshold.
Bridges' response was to reel off the options that could magically appear between now and 2020 in a manner reminiscent of Bubba in Forrest Gump reeling off the ways shrimp could be cooked.
The possible permutations ranged from someone from NZ First breaking away and setting up a new party, NZ First imploding completely, a Green Party &qu ot;that is actually green rather than communist, "the Opportunities Party, Dr Lance O'Sullivan, to NZ First itself.
He even joked about the prospect of giving MP Chris Finlayson a cowboy hat and a horse to set up a Country Party.Source: Google News