Simon Bridges resignation: Politicians pay tribute to National MP, Grant Robertson jokes he's ready for yak show

Politicians from across the aisle are paying tribute to outgoing MP Simon Bridges, with Labour's Grant Robertson even jokingly saying he was in the "top half" of National finance spokespeople he has faced.

Bridges, the former National Party leader and current finance spokesperson, announced his retirement from politics on Tuesday morning, a move he says he has been mulling over for some time now but which has come as a shock to others.

National's been gaining momentum in recent weeks as it prosecutes the Government over increasing cost-of-living. Last week, for the first time since January 2020, the party was more popular in a major political poll than Labour.

Leader Christopher Luxon said he has been a great advocate and "champion" for his electorate of Tauranga and was a "very successful minister", holding a number of portfolios including Transport at the same time Luxon was the Air New Zealand chief executive.

"He's been a very trusted friend of mine and a confidant for some time. I just wish him and his family all the very best as he makes these decisions," Luxon said on Tuesday.

The leader said there was no scandal the public was not aware of that had led Bridges to quit.

"This is a decision that Simon has come to on his own accord. We have been friends for a long time and so we've talked about life inside, outside politics, just a normal, friendly sort of conversation that we've had from even before I came into politics.

"This is all about him at a stage of life saying 'hey, listen, you know, what I want to do for the next 25 years of my life'."

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

Robertson, the Labour Finance Minister, who Bridges has sparred with since he got the finance role late last year, acknowledged his contribution in the House on Tuesday. 

While questioning Robertson on cost-of-living during Question Time, Bridges was awarded an extra question by Speaker Trevor Mallard as a result of heckling from the Labour side. 

Robertson yelled out to Bridges to "make it a goodie", which Bridges indeed did, asking the minister whether he'd always be his favourite National finance spokesperson. 

"I have been giving significant thought to this question," Robertson replied. "I can confirm for the member that among the six National Party finance spokespeople I have faced, he is in the top half."

The House erupted in laughter and Bridges followed it up by asking what the minister will miss most about him.

"What I will miss about the member is his ability, found latterly in his political career, to not take himself too seriously and I look forward to his hosting of the Country Calendar yak special."

Bridges went viral in mid-2020 when a video was shared of him looking very content and happy while hanging out with a baby yak on a farm. It came just months after he was rolled as National leader in a coup led by MP Todd Muller. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also asked on Tuesday for her reflections on Bridges. 

The pair both entered Parliament in 2008 as young MPs and were quickly spotlighted as future leaders. Ardern became Labour leader and eventually Prime Minister in 2017, while Bridges would become her main opponent as Leader of the Opposition in 2018. 

"I have known Simon Bridges for a number of years," Ardern said. 

"Over the course of that time, I have seen the fact that not only has he taken those leadership roles, but he has had a family, a young family, a growing family. 

"My only message would be to wish him well. It will be a huge change of environment and pace and one I am sure his family will be happy that he has made so they see more of him. After all, all politicians are still human and mums and dads often too."

ACT's David Seymour said Bridges was one of a number of National Party leaders he has worked well with. 

"I think he has been highly committed to the cause of better policy in New Zealand. For that, I admire him. I have always enjoyed his company. I wish him all the best. He has given a lot to Parliament. He has given a lot to his party. I think he deserves success and maybe a little more serenity in whatever he does next."

Bridges said he is looking forward to exploring commercial opportunities and possible a media project or two.

For party leaders, the next question will be how to approach the upcoming byelection.

National would be the odds-on favourite. Other than a period between 1993 and 2005 when Winston Peters held the electorate, it's been a National seat since 1938.

Luxon said on Tuesday that he'd heard from a number of people over summer expressing interest in being a candidate at next year's election.

"So we will have a great candidate and we are going to put up a great fight. I am confident we will win it."

Ardern said while she will decide when the byelection will occur after receiving some advice, Labour's approach will be a decision for the wider party.

"Worth reflecting, I don't think it's been since about 1930 since that seat has been held by Labour. But our practice has been to be present on the ground in byelections."

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. 

Seymour said the ACT board was meeting on Tuesday night to "discuss tactics".

"You always want to use money very carefully, whether you are a political party or in Government, but we will certainly be looking at running a strong campaign there."