Tova O'Brien: Simon Bridges' shifty show

OPINION: The c-word is one of the dirtiest words in the political lexicon. Allegations of corruption have a tendency to stick - be they spurious or not.

So when a politician's accused of corruption it's best to answer thoroughly, honestly and forthrightly. To do anything but looks shifty.

Shifty is exactly how Simon Bridges came across at his press conference when asked about the allegation he sought to hide a $100,000 donation from the public and the law, as per the allegations made by Jami-Lee Ross.

Bridges was asked if Zhang Yikun had offered him a donation of $100,000,  he answered: "I have answered the questions in relation to this."

He hadn't.

He was asked again, "did you or did you not?"

Bridges tried to move on asking, "are there any other questions?"

We tried again asking if he facilitated the donation, he repeated that he'd answered the question very clearly.

He still hadn't.

Even some of his MPs confessed to me that it looked dodgy, which should ring serious alarm bells for Bridges.

The caucus still maintains Bridges' handled the situation really well, and there's some merit to that. There's no rulebook for how to deal with this kind of thing. What we saw at Parliament yesterday was extraordinary and unprecedented.

That's all the more reason to have answered those questions rather than dodge them.

Refusing to answer gave the impression Bridges had something to hide, that perhaps he was concerned he'd get caught out in a lie not knowing what was on the recording Jami-Lee Ross surreptitiously made of him discussing the donation.

Not only can Bridges no longer draw a line under this whole ugly leak debacle and move on to things that he'd much rather be talking about - like holding the government to account for example - the saga has now mutated and multiplied.

Everything that follows raises yet more questions about his ability to lead the National Party.

And there's A LOT yet to follow - a potential police investigation, potential audit of party donations, the Botany by-election. All of it keeps Bridges' leadership in the headlines and under the microscope.

Constant chatter about leadership not only risks chipping away at his credibility, it will frustrate his MPs who really don't want to be talking about that.

There's only so many times you can say 'the caucus is united' before it starts conjuring the spectre of the politically doomed David Cunliffe.

The situation Bridges is in - from the initial leak to Newshub of his expenses to the Ross bombshell yesterday - would be a nightmare for any leader to weather.

Even popular leaders like Jacinda Ardern or John Key would struggle but for a leader like Bridges who's already failing to resonate with voters and polling abysmally - this is hell.

The caucus may have galvanised and coalesced around Bridges for now but their patience will wear thin.

Bridges has a couple of things on his side that could see him through to 2020.

First, if the party's poll numbers hold firm he can point to that as a sign of success but any slip and things start looking even more tenuous.

Secondly, some in National have resigned themselves to an election loss to Ardern and Labour, making the leadership job a poisoned chalice.

None of the other aspirants will want to waste their one shot at the Prime Ministership - better to swoop in after the election and take the party to 2023 when there's perhaps a better chance of a win and maybe no Winston Peters to bother with.

But none of that will matter if Jami-Lee Ross lands a decisive blow. He's going down and is determined to take Bridges with him.

Tova O'Brien is Newshub's political editor