National Party leadership contest as it happened: Simon Bridges v Todd Muller

Todd Muller has been confirmed as the new leader of the National Party, and Nikki Kaye is confirmed as his deputy.

The Bay of Plenty MP will take the helm for the 2020 election after receiving more votes than incumbent leader Simon Bridges during an emergency caucus meeting on Friday afternoon.

They will not be revealing what proportion of National's 56 caucus members voted for Muller.

The meeting was organised earlier in the week after Muller confirmed he was vying for Bridges' position after a devastating Newshub-Reid Research poll showed Labour would, as it stands, run away with the 2020 general election.

Bridges had been the leader of National for two years.

As it happened:

Todd Muller and his wife leave Parliament after winning the caucus vote for national Party leader.
Todd Muller and his wife leave Parliament after winning the caucus vote for national Party leader. Photo credit: Getty
Bridges addresses the media after losing his job as the leader of the National Party.
Bridges addresses the media after losing his job as the leader of the National Party. Photo credit: Getty
Bridges and Bennett joke with reports during the press conference on Friday.
Bridges and Bennett joke with reports during the press conference on Friday. Photo credit: Getty
Bridges and his wife Natalie on the way to the press briefing.
Bridges and his wife Natalie on the way to the press briefing. Photo credit: Getty

3:11pm - The press conference has now finished.

3:10pm - Bridges says he feels "deeply privileged" to have been the leader of the opposition and is looking for the silver lining in his departure.

3:04pm - "It's been a blast, I have no regrets."

Bridges has thanked his family for their support and says he is looking forward to being able to spend more time with them.

3:01pm- Simon Bridges is fronting the media and has congratulated the newly elected leader. He has acknowledged Paula Bennett, along with other staff who have helped him during his term.

"It's been a heck of a ride and a rollercoaster of highs and lows."

Newly elected National Party Leader Todd Muller speaks to media.
Newly elected National Party Leader Todd Muller speaks to media. Photo credit: Getty

2:53pm - During his press conference Muller said: "Our number one priority is the recovery of this country, the defence and rebuilding of jobs and communities and ensuring through that we have strong families".

2:50pm - The press conference had ended. Simon Bridges will address the media at 3pm.

2:46pm-  Muller says he is the first to "admit and acknowledge that the Government's handling of COVID-19 was overall impressive".

"I think most New Zealanders would feel the same. But to measure your performance as a Cabinet on your ability to manage a crisis in eight weeks in a health context against the threshold of do you have the capacity sitting around a Cabinet to design an economic recovery when all your performance measures in the previous two and a half years have been a failure, I think that doesn't work, I think the country knows that doesn't work."

2:44pm-  ACT Leader David Seymour says he welcomes the election of Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye. 

"We face a pivotal moment as a country. The fallout from Covid-19 represents the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the potential for 250,000 jobs to be lost over the next two years. Having a strong alternative coalition is essential for New Zealand democracy.

"National has chosen to tack towards the centre, taking on Jacinda Ardern at close quarters. It is critical that New Zealanders who want free speech, lower taxes, less red tape, and greater personal freedom have a voice in any future centre-right coalition."

2:40pm - The new National leader has not ruled out working with Winston Peters and NZ First political party.

2:37pm - Muller confirms Paul Goldsmith with continue as National's finance spokesperson.

2:34pm- Nikki Kaye: "I believe that part of his strength is that he manages to bring together a diverse range of views so I have confidence that he can unite both the conservative people in our caucus and those people that are liberals".

2:25pm - Hard work, enterprise, and entreprenuership are qualities Muller says supporters are wanting and what the new leaders will provide.

2:22pm - "What drives me is community, the people who help their elderly neighbours with the lawns on the weekend, the dad who runs the food stall at the local school fair, the mum who coaches a local touch rugby team."

2:20pm - Muller says they will not reveal the number of votes in his favour. But says everyone is unified in the decision to support him as leader.

2:18pm- Muller says his National Government will focus on the economy.

"We will focus on the economy of the community...

"I'm about what's best for you and your family not what's wrong with the Government."

"You have made many sacrifices, you have put a lot on the line to get us through this crisis and now we must begin taking another step forward to rebuild our country, to rebuild our economy, and to restore the livelihoods of New Zealanders," Muller says.

2:15pm - Muller is addressing the media. He thanked Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett for leading the party, saying they have worked hard.

"Now we must begin taking another step forward together with confidence."

2:05pm - Muller and Kaye are going to front a press conference in 10 minutes, at 2:15pm. They will be followed by Simon Bridges at 3pm.

More information on the new leaders:

Nikki Kaye and Todd Muller are seen leaving the caucus meeting on Friday afternoon.
Nikki Kaye and Todd Muller are seen leaving the caucus meeting on Friday afternoon. Photo credit: Getty

1:43pm - MP Matt King has taken to Twitter to congratulate the new leader of the National Party.

1:31pm- It is official, Todd Muller has been elected leader of New Zealand's National Party. Nikki Kaye has been elected as his Deputy. 

"There is no Team Todd, there is no Team Nikki, or anyone else – there is only Team National," Muller said in a press release.

"National has always been a coalition of city and country, business and community, conservatives and liberals – National is the party for all New Zealanders.

"New Zealanders need a National Government with the experience and management skills to get our country through the worst crisis since the end of the Second World War.

"My focus as leader is our country’s economic recovery and the strengthening of every community throughout New Zealand."

1:30pm - Newshub's Live Special has now finished. All of the details will be on newshub.co.nz.

1:27pm - Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye are expected to front a press conference at 2:15pm.

1:10pm - Newshub understands Nikki Kaye has been elected deputy leader, but this has yet to be confirmed.

1:05pm - The meeting now appears to be over with members leaving the caucus room.

Former National and New Zealand First MP Tau Henare says Winston Peters is open to talking to National about a possible coalition.

1pm - We are still waiting for MPs to come out of caucus, where they have been voting for leader and deputy leader. 

12:40pm - Sources have told Newshub Simon Bridges has lost the vote. Newshub understands the vote has been won by Todd Muller.

Ryan Bridge has just revealed this on the Newshub special. Tova O'Brien says the caucus has gone with the unknown candidate, Muller.

12:35pm - We are still waiting to see which candidate receives at least 28 votes. Here are some photos of the MPs entering the caucus room.

MPs enter the caucus room.
MPs enter the caucus room. Photo credit: Getty.
Todd Muller.
Todd Muller. Photo credit: Getty.
Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Getty.

12:20pm - Jonathan Coleman says Bridges' biggest issue has been tone. He pointed to Bridges' comments earlier this week about hair dye that were widely criticised.

"I think there is concern in the public that he just won't be able to get that tone right in a way that can ever compete with the Prime Minister's popularity."

Jonathan Coleman.
Jonathan Coleman. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

Former MP Peter Dunne tells Newshub it's hard to see Winston Peters working with National under either leader. He said it might be too much for National Party supporters to see Peters work with National after he chose Labour in 2017.

He said he was surpised by the contest due to the discipline the National Party normally shows.

Bridges' role became impossible to sustain during the pandemic because of the attention on Ardern, Dunne said. On Muller, Dunne said he seems to be a "genuine guy" with clear views and a strong streak of determination. He noted Muller's bi-partisan work on climate change action.

"How he would come across in public is another question. You have a high-profile, a very engaging Prime Minister. He is a bit more laid back, a bit more cautious and controlled, and whether he would provide a more disciplined contrast I don't know," he said.

"Simon Bridges' problem has been that he has looked a bit too much like a terrier dog, snapping and snapping and snapping."

Dunne doesn't believe Muller's lack of public profile matters.

The former United Future leader thinks Muller will win, but it will be close. He said that is dangerous because it means the caucus is split and could postpone another "day of reckoning" to later this year or next year.

Peter Dunne.
Peter Dunne. Photo credit: Getty.

12:10pm - Right-leaning commentator Trish Sherson is picking Muller. She has had "several conversations" with people with the numbers.

Former National Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says it is too tight to call. 

"It is going to be extremely tight."

MPs will be considering their own self-interest, Coleman tells Newshub.

Coleman says the first challenge for the leader after the contest is bringing the party together. He said it will be difficult for Bridges to keep Muller in the fold considering the Bay of Plenty MP doesn't believe the incumbent can win the election. 

12:05pm - The door to the caucus room has closed. We will have the result as soon as it comes through. 

12pm - The Newshub special begins now. Watch the livestream here or see the video above.

MPs are entering the caucus room right now. We can see Judith Collins enter.

"It is hyper, it is tense, it is subdued," Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien said.

"Both sides, both Simon Bridges' and Todd Muller's camps, are equally confident that they have got this."

11:40am - Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop have now arrived. Willis is a list MP while Bishop holds the marginal seat of Hutt South.

Bishop wouldn't say who he is supporting. He has been raising money for charity by wearing a mullet. But he didn't have that on when driving onto Parliament grounds.

Nathan Guy, who is retiring from Parliament, told media he would be deciding who to vote for "shortly".

11:30am - Lawrence Yule is another National MP who has turned up for the meeting. He has made up his mind, but wouldn't tell media. He said any political party wouldn't like a poll showing support at 29 percent, but is confident that the party can come back.

"It's serious, but I think we will sort this today and we will be very competitive."

He called the contest a "short-term distraction".

Jian Yang doesn't have a preference yet. He also reckons the party can bounce back.

Maggie Barry.
Maggie Barry. Photo credit: Getty.
Alfred Ngaro.
Alfred Ngaro. Photo credit: Getty.
Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty.

11:10am - Judith Collins is back in Wellington. She was tight-lipped and said she wouldn't be running for leadership.

"I just think that everyone needs to focus on the people, get back to work, keep focused on the job and stop talking about ourselves."

She criticised Bridges' communication skills, but he was a "very good leader". 

"We have quite a lot of very good leaders in our team."

Collins said: "Whoever wins will be the person who I vote for".

11:05am - Todd Muller and his wife have arrived at Parliament. He said he was excited for the "momentous" day for his party.

Todd Muller arrives.
Todd Muller arrives. Photo credit: Getty.

10:55am - Maggie Barry has said she's backing Muller.

"I don't know what the mood of the caucus is. I’ve made up my mind I'll be voting for Todd Muller for the leader and Nikki Kaye as the deputy, but the decision remains with caucus as it rightly ought to."

10:45am - Maureen Pugh has no preference for leader yet and is keeping an open mind.

Asked why she would support Bridges considering their history, Pugh went silent, smiled and then said "no comment".

10:35am - Bridges has had a rocky time as leader with relatively poor Preferred Prime Minister stakes. One of the most notable sagas during his period in the top job was when MP Jami-Lee Ross - once one of Bridges' closest colleagues - came out with a series of allegations against him in October 2018.

That included alleging Bridges directed him to split up a $100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman into small amounts. Ross later left the party and shared a phone call recording of Bridges, which included him calling National MP Maureen Pugh "f***ing useless".

10:25am - Not sure who challenger Todd Muller is? Ryan Bridge has the key details.

10:15am - Other MPs who have shown up include Matt Doocey, Anne Tolley, and Nicky Wagner.

Doocey said he thinks it will be a "good result" but didn't give anything away.  

"In the end, this is about New Zealanders and what's best for New Zealand... In the end caucus will decide, I think it's going to be a good result, and that's probably all I have to say."

Tolley said National can come back from the poor polls. Prime Minister Ardern has had wall-to-wall coverage and been "rewarded" for her "good job of keeping the country together".

Newshub asked National MP Jacqui Dean if she is backing Muller.

"I'm going to caucus today and then we'll decide at caucus," she said.

Dean described Simon Bridges as a "fantastic leader" and said Todd Muller is a "really good member of caucus".

Asked if Muller could be a good leader, Dean said "who knows".

"Ultimately, one day he possibly could - who would know?" Dean said, when asked if Muller could be leader.

10:05am - Leadership questions were sparked this week on the back of a Newshub-Reid Research poll on Monday. It showed Labour as being able to govern alone on 56.5 percent, while National trailed on 30.6 percent. At the 2017 election, it received just over 44 percent support.

While the difference between the two parties is worrying some MPs, others suggest that as the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic start hitting hard over the coming months, the party will rebound. Unemployment is expected to peak in September - the same month as the election - at just under 10 percent.

10am - Ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross has detailed how leadership meetings he has been a part of went down.

9:55am - Judith Collins revealed on Friday morning why she isn't running

"No. I'm not interested. I do not have sufficient support in the caucus to be the leader. I have some very great support in the caucus, but I do not have sufficient [support]. 

"I'm not going to waste our time going in an election year with only three-and-a-bit months to the election worrying about myself. The fact is we have a job to do, and I want us to get on and do that job."

She's not going for deputy either.

"I'm not interested in being the deputy for anybody... . I do not want it. If someone offered it, no."

Judith Collins on The AM Show.
Judith Collins on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show.

National MP Dan Bidoi, when asked if it's feasible for Simon Bridges to stay on as leader with his preferred Prime Minister rating slipping, said "that's for caucus to decide today".

He said he's "really looking forward to the plan ahead and to putting together the best economic recovery plan for the next election".

Bidois said the mood in caucus is "mixed" and that MPs are "looking forward to having this over and done with today".

9:45am - The party's finance spokesperson says he has always been a supporer of Bridges, "but the critical thing is that we get back to concentrating on the things that matter to New Zealanders".

"We going to get through what's going to be an important discussion, we're very focussed on talking about the things that matter to New Zealanders, we've got a huge economic issue to deal with, and that's what we're going to get on with later today."

He said "of course" the leadership battle is distracting and "that's why we want to get it over with as quickly as possible".

Newshub asked National MP Denise Lee what the mood in the caucus is like.

"It's a caucus process today so I won't be saying anything. But 12 noon will be interesting."

Asked who she thinks should take National through to the election, she said, "It's a caucus process so sorry guys, tight-lipped."

9:40am - Northland MP Matt King also wouldn't say who he was voting for. Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe says there are two very good candidates and he would be happy to serve either as leader.

"Polls bounce around all the time and I have been around long enough to know that things change and this is not a normal environment," Macindoe said.

9:35am - We have already had a few National MPs turn up at Parliament. 

"I am not making any comment… National will come out of this stronger and more united than ever," said Nelson MP Nick Smith.

Nick Smith arrives at Parliament.
Nick Smith arrives at Parliament. Photo credit: Getty.

Mark Mitchell, who has previously had leadership aspirations, said there is "anticipation in caucus".

"I am not going to speculate at all. I'm just going to respect the process now and my caucus colleagues and that’s why I’m not going to say anything about what I intend to do or what anyone else intends to do. I just want to get into the caucus room now, and we’ll emerge, and we’ll have a result," he said.

He said he wouldn't say what he intends to do or who he would support.

Mitchell said the party could fight its way back from its poor polling, especially as the country goes into recession. 

"The poll wasn’t good but in my view we are going to fight our way back from that and I think that now we’re into an economic recovery phase and as a party that’s one of our core equities and so we’re going to come up with a very good plan for our recovery and I think we will recover strongly from those poll numbers."

Mark Mitchell wouldn't say which way his vote is going.
Mark Mitchell wouldn't say which way his vote is going. Photo credit: Getty.

Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien asked Mitchell what’s better: "a candidate no one likes or a candidate no one knows".

Mitchell replied: "I'm not going to comment on that because I just don’t want to have any influence at all and respect my caucus colleagues in terms of the process we're in."

Barbara Kuriger, the party's whip, said the party would come out of caucus united.

Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse wouldn't comment to media.

9:25am - Welcome to Newshub's live updates. National Party MPs are flying into Wellington and slowly making their way to Parliament for the midday vote. 

Judith Collins, appearing on The AM Show on Friday morning, said she didn't have "sufficient support" to become leader.

While Muller believes he is the best person for the job, Bridges says he is confident he will retain the leadership.

Here are some of the big stories of the week:

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