Mark Sainsbury: Rats in the ranks of the National Party

OPINION: Two weeks ago I joined my colleagues for an impromptu press conference where Simon Bridges announced Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross would take medical leave due to an "embarrassing situation".  We are still none too wise as to what the embarrassing part is but, suffice to say, the rumour mill is going overboard and if even a fraction is true, it is scorching - but right now we don't know. 

The reason I bring up that press conference is that Simon Bridges was asked repeatedly if this sudden medical leave was related to the leak. "No," he said emphatically. He had asked Jami-Lee Ross about it and had his assurance it wasn't him, he insisted.

Maybe Jami-Lee's word meant something two weeks ago.

By Monday that changed. When announcing the result of an independent inquiry into the leak of his expenses, Bridges says, while the actual leaker couldn't be definitively identified, all evidence pointed to Ross. A review of the inquiry by QC John Billington said, on the basis of probabilities, it was Ross.

In other words, National has a rat in the ranks. Not only is the finger of blame pointed at Ross, just minutes before the press conference, he jumped the gun on his leader tweeting that he was about to be named as the fall guy. It is hard to see what the end game is for Ross, the likely scenario is he will get the boot from the National caucus later this morning.

Meanwhile, Ross claims to have evidence the National leader asked him to do things that were illegal.

But Ross, the MP who got into Parliament on the back of another scandal that engulfed his predecessor Pansy Wong, may not be the only victim. 

This whole business is seen as a test of Bridges' leadership, which hasn't been regarded as stellar. For a start he was criticised for even letting the inquiry into the leak go ahead - fuelling a story that could only harm him and his party.

As this plays out it is clear there was someone who, for whatever reasons, was undermining his leader - a rat in the ranks.

Should that have been left to slide? Could Bridges have afforded to leave Ross white anting him? It was a no win situation. Is it credible that Bridges had no idea about Ross? What about all the veiled references he's made to conduct issues...  Watch this space.

So what next? What does Bridges need to do to turn this to his advantage? He's leaving it to his caucus, but Judith Collins has pointedly said if she was leader, she wouldn't have put up with Ross's behaviour - once upon a time Ross was her biggest supporter.

MPs cast into the political wilderness rarely survive although, the exception to the rule - Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters.

What do you think? Are you shocked by Ross's apparent betrayal of his leader? Can Bridges remain in the job? Will the full story ever come out? One thing is almost certain. When the National caucus finishes this morning, Ross will no longer be a member. Fellow MP Maggie Barry is not a great fan, tweeting: "The unpleasant & bullying behaviour of Jami-Lee Ross has no place in an otherwise united National caucus under our leader Simon Bridges".

This from an MP who supported Amy Adams in the leadership tussle.

But what of all the damaging material Ross claims to have on Bridges? Bring it on I say. It's time to call him on it. Or is it the final rattle of an ambitious but doomed  MP. The options are running out for Ross the only question is - can he bring his leader down with him?

Mark Sainsbury is the host of RadioLIVE’s Morning Talk, 9am – midday.