National leader Simon Bridges stands by divisive Facebook post that sparked leadership concerns

Opposition leader Simon Bridges is standing by his Facebook post criticising the Government's lockdown extension that received a flood of negative comments and sparked concerns about his leadership.

The National Party leader says he is "100 percent" sure his leadership is secure and makes "no excuses" for what he said in the Facebook post last week that saw National supporters threaten to abandon the party.

"I just think this is going on too long," Bridges told Magic Talk. "I want to get New Zealand working again safely and sooner than later, and I feel it's important to stick up for small business people who, in their thousands, are emailing me." 

In the Facebook post, Bridges criticised the Government for extending the alert level 4 lockdown for another week and accused the Government of not doing enough to prepare the country to come out, prompting backlash in the comment section.  

Newshub looked through the comments on Bridges' Facebook post and found that people who appear to be legitimate National Party supporters are backing the Government en masse and its decision to extend the lockdown for a week. 

"My National vote is quickly turning because of your attitude Simon Bridges. You are acting like a child," a Christchurch man wrote. "Your days are numbered as leader. Every time you open your mouth you are losing voters."

Bridges told Magic Talk, "I've seen the comments online... but that's just not my focus."

The post, which has so far received 29,000 comments, led to some National MPs speaking out against Bridges last week. They told Newshub they were unimpressed by the tone he had taken during the COVID-19 crisis. 

National MPs confidentially told Newshub of "deep concern about the way things are going", that there was a "tone issue" with the Facebook post, and that the "membership is not happy".

Newshub then learned on Monday that National MP Nick Smith wrote to the caucus expressing disappointment about Bridges setting up a new COVID-19 policy team that Smith felt doubled up on his role as chair of National's policy committee.

It came on the eve of a National Party caucus meeting on Tuesday.

Bridges said there will "definitely not" be a leadership challenge during the caucus meeting and brushed off the suggestion that Smith's letter illustrated the senior MP's unhappiness with him.

"That's not at all the case. It is quite simple: we are discussing our economic recovery plans to get New Zealand working again, and we're focussed on what matters... I absolutely know I have support, and that's why I've got to focus on New Zealanders suffering."

Bridges would not reveal what National's current internal polling, saying, "We don't talk about those things externally. We never have."

Newshub's most recent poll in February showed an improvement in popularity for Bridges as preferred Prime Minister. He was up 3.9 percentage points to 10.6 percent against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 38.7 percent. 

Bridges said he has not been approached by any National MPs expressing disappointment in his handling of the COVID-19 crisis or his tone in the Facebook post.

He said the Government "got so much right" about the COVID-19 response, but wants to "make sure that the medicine isn't worse than the disease".

"We flattened the curve as a country, but we don't need to flatten the country. We need to get other curves going, an upward curve on growth, on jobs and on track back to normality."