An ex-cop to former Air New Zealand CEO: Meet the National Party leadership contenders

Judith Collins is leader of the National Party no more and there looks to be three main contenders for her job - an ex-cop, a former CEO and an MP who's already been Prime Minister-in-waiting. 

Mark Mitchell, elected to Parliament in 2011 as MP for Rodney (now Whangaparāoa) is up against Christopher Luxon, the former CEO of Air New Zealand, who was only elected last year as MP for Botany. 

Former leader Simon Bridges has also confirmed he's considering having another go. The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found 40.7 percent support for Bridges as leader compared to 23.2 percent for Collins. 

National MP Mark Mitchell.
National MP Mark Mitchell. Photo credit: Getty Images

Who is Mark Mitchell?

Mitchell, who spent 13 years with the police and eight years as a private security contractor with a stint in Iraq, has successfully held his electorate since 2011. 

Mitchell, 53, went up against Collins in July last year after Todd Muller stepped down. He put his name forward with Louise Upston as his potential deputy, but Collins was ultimately successful. 

Following the disastrous election result for National, Mitchell ruled out challenging Collins. It was reported he was firming up a bid for Mayor of Auckland, but in October announced he'd decided not to stand. 

Mitchell, who served as Defence Minister under the leadership of Prime Minister Bill English, has two biological children and three step-children. 

In 2013 he voted against legalising same-sex marriage. 

National MP Christopher Luxon.
National MP Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Getty Images

Who is Christopher Luxon?

Luxon is best known for serving as Air New Zealand chief executive from 2012 to 2019, at which time he hinted at a possible career with the National Party. 

He won the Botany seat at the 2020 election. It was previously held by former MP Jami-Lee Ross, who by that point was running as an independent following a massive fallout with the National Party. 

Luxon, 51, identifies as an evangelical Christian. He is married and has a son and daughter. In 2019 Luxon said he was against capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, and legalising recreational cannabis.

Luxon has long been rumoured to be a National Party leadership contender. Newshub understands former Prime Minister Sir John Key has been urging him to be strategic and bide his time until after the next election. 

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll suggested Luxon had a long road ahead not just to convince the public he's the man for the job, but for them to even know who he is.

Luxon is understood to be running for the leadership with Nicola Willis, National's housing spokesperson, as his deputy. 

National MP Simon Bridges.
National MP Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Getty Images

The return of Simon Bridges?

Bridges, arguably, has the advantage of name recognition, having served as National Party leader from February 2018 following the resignation of Bill English, to May 2020 when he was replaced by Todd Muller. 

Bridges became the first person with Māori ancestry to serve as leader of a major party in New Zealand. He managed to keep National's popularity relatively high as leader, but struggled to compete with Jacinda Ardern as preferred Prime Minister in the polls. 

The 45-year-old has held the Tauranga seat since 2008. He served as a Cabinet minister under both Sir John Key and Sir Bill English. 

His eventual leadership of National got off to a rocky start when former MP Jami-Lee Ross accused him in 2019 of committing electoral fraud by asking him to split up a $100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman into smaller amounts, so they could be hidden from the Electoral Commission. 

In the end, it was Ross - who later went independent and created his own unsuccessful Advance NZ party which peddled misinformation and is now deregistered - who is facing Serious Fraud Office charges.

Ross also released a recording of Bridges describing his colleague Maureen Pugh as "f***ing useless", for which he apologised. 

Fast-forward to 2020, and the world was plunged into a pandemic. The Government's decision to extend the first lockdown in April had wide public support, but Bridges criticised the move in a Facebook post that saw National supporters threaten to abandon him. 

Following months of unrest within the National Party after a devastating Newshub-Reid Research poll that saw National eclipsed by Labour, Bridges was rolled.

Since then, his popularity has bounced back. He took a step back from politics, spent more time with his wife and three children, and released a book about identity. 

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found 40.7 percent support for Bridges as leader compared to 23.2 percent for Collins. 

But Bridges is facing controversy again, after Collins demoted him over an allegation of "serious misconduct".

It turns out it was about National MP Jacqui Dean who, about five years ago, complained about comments Bridges made in front of her and other colleagues, back when Bill English was Deputy Prime Minister. 

Bridges has acknowledged the comments he made were "inappropriate" but is still considering running for the leadership. 

Bridges also voted against same-sex marriage in 2013.