Simon Bridges resignation: National MP denies scandal prompted exit, takes jab at Winston Peters, hints at media project

Outgoing National MP Simon Bridges has denied a scandal prompted his exit and has taken a jab at his old foe Winston Peters in announcing his resignation on Tuesday morning.

The shock move from the National finance spokesperson comes as his party surpassed Labour in a political poll for the first time in two years and as the cost-of-living worsens - something Bridges has repeatedly targeted the Government over.

But the MP for Tauranga denies his sudden departure is about anything more than wanting to take new commercial opportunities and spend more time with his young family. He also made several references to considering "maybe a media project or two". 

"For me personally, it is time. It is not about National. It is a good time for National because they have got momentum. I am going to explore commercial opportunities and I have got a young family. At 45, I feel it is their time as well," Bridges said on Tuesday.

The MP, who was a Crown prosecutor prior to moving into politics, says he "likes to keep things interesting" and no longer holds a practising certificate. 

"I am really excited about exploring some commercial opportunities, possibly a media project or two, and enjoying life."

He wouldn't say whether he has already been offered another job.

There is no right time to leave politics, Bridges said. 

"These aren't decisions that come in a day or overnight. It is something I have mulled for some time… I owed it to my colleagues and [leader Christopher Luxon], my friend and colleague and leader, to actually be clear about all of this. 

"If I am going to go, to get out of the way, to allow him and a new finance spokesperson to really take it to the Government and prepare I hope for victory in 2023."

He said there is no scandal lurking in the background. 

"Absolutely not. If there was, I'd probably stay and tough it out. There just isn't. My reasons that I give you are the reasons that are real."

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Newshub.

In any three-year cycle there will be a by-election, he said. This will be the first in New Zealand since the Northcote contest in 2018. 

Tauranga is a safe seat for National. It's held the electorate since 1938 other than for a period between 1993 and 2005 when New Zealand First leader Peters took it. National's Bob Clarkson took it off Peters and Bridges retained it for National in 2008, more than doubling Peters' vote. Bridges kept hold of the seat at the 2020 election despite a massive swing towards Labour nationally.

There's already speculation that Peters, who didn't return to Parliament at the 2020 election after NZ First suffered a poor showing, may take a crack at his old seat.

Asked about that on Tuesday, Bridges said Tauranga has been a strong National seat and he is "quietly confident for National". 

"It's a very different city today than it was, say, 20 years ago. It is bustling, it's dynamic and I think in the end it will be a left-right fight and National will win it."

Newshub has tried to get in touch with Peters. Labour's Jan Tinetti, who fought for the Tauranga seat in 2017 and 2020, will reportedly put her hand up to be her party's candidate. National will start the process to find a candidate in the coming weeks. 

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Speaking about what his legacy may be, Bridges said he was the first Māori leader of a major New Zealand political party.

"Sorry, Winston, major party. I am proud of that. It is something no one can take away from me."

He said he was proud of projects like the City Rail Link and the Kaikoura State Highway rail rebuild. 

After entering Parliament in 2008, Bridges quickly became a minister under Sir John Key. He held portfolios including Transport, Energy and Resources and Economic Development.

In 2018, he rose to be National Party leader after the party couldn't form government in 2017 and Sir Bill English resigned from the top spot. However, after a rocky couple of years, including the Jami-Lee Ross saga and criticism over his approach to the COVID-19 response in 2020, Bridges was rolled in a coup led by his neighbouring electorate MP Todd Muller.

Last November, he was suddenly stripped of his portfolios by then-leader Judith Collins who brought up historic claims of misconduct. Her handling of that led to a no-confidence vote in her. Bridges considered running to be the National leader again, but left it to newcomer Christopher Luxon. Bridges has since been the party's finance spokesperson. 

He said on Tuesday that a career in politics has "highs and lows", but he "wouldn't swap any of it".

Luxon released a statement saying Bridges has been an "absolute champion for Tauranga" and had become a "trust advisor and confidant" since he took on the leadership. 

"I am going to personally miss his contribution to the National Party caucus," he said.

"I want to pay tribute to Simon's relentless efforts to make New Zealand a better place – and also thank Natalie, Emlyn, Harry and Jemima for letting their husband and dad spend so much time away from home to help achieve that goal."

He said National will announce its new finance spokesperson in the coming days.