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Moderation builds political bridges with dignity

Venkat Raman

When Simon Bridges was elected as Leader of the National Party on February 27, 2018, he told the Nation that he would hold the government to account by being firm but fair.

Last fortnight, visiting our offices for the first time, he began his conversation saying that the Labour-led Government deserves a chance and that he would support on issues of national and international interest and be a responsible Leader of the Opposition.

Some Positives

Mr Bridges has a number of factors working for him.

Firstly, he inherited a strong, rather the largest Party in Parliament, although there have been rumblings among its ranks. Secondly, as an elected MP, he knows the hardships of pleasing an electorate and remaining ahead of the race. Thirdly, his youthful exuberance – perhaps he is the youngest leader that National Party has had in decades – and his humane approach will keep him in good stead. Lastly, for the time being at least, the National Party caucus appears united and hence its Leader could concentrate on issues at hand.

Mr Bridges did not seem to mind that the fight for the post of the Leader was intense and at times bitter. He does not seem to have any misgivings, when he said, “The race was respectful and even ‘friendly’ at times.”

Worst Job in the world

Besides becoming the Leader of the biggest opposition party, with a shoal of minnows splashing far behind, Mr Bridges argued that National Party, after nine years on the Treasury benches, left the legacy of a strong economy with robust growth against such serious challenges as the Global Financial Crisis, Earthquakes and other odds.

John Key did not like the idea of being the Leader of the Opposition (“I would rather resign,” he had said) and Bill English tried but his hand was forced, making him a disappointed Leader.

On that scale, Mr Bridges would score. He has patience and time.

Does a Labour-led government spell disaster, as some National MPs have been saying in tones of condemnation?

Mr Bridges does not believe so. “Let them have a fair chance to govern. We will watch, applaud where we should and question them where warranted,” he said.

Business-friendly

He is aware that as the oldest and largest circulated Indian newspaper in New Zealand, Indian Newslink has been playing its part in the country’s polity, economy and society.

“I respect your newspaper,” he said in his Opening Statement as we sat down for a chat at our offices (on March 22, 2018). Your Business Awards are amazing. Indian businesses have so done well and have much more to offer. We must harness their potential,” he said.

Like leaders on either side of the House, Mr Bridges is aware of the need to keep pace with businesses and understand their aspirations and assess their needs.

Mr Key began his term in 2008 with fanfare, meeting businesses but soon that enthusiasm faded; Mr English had little time for interaction during his brief stint as the Leader; but Mr Bridges would have abundant opportunities.

Business Visits

As he declared, “Business visits have been high on my agenda.  It is great to have the opportunity to get their feedback on what’s working and what is not. As predicted, changes to Labour Law are causing a lot of nervousness. I thank businesses that have opened their doors to me and for their honest feedback. We are highly energised and are getting out and about, talking and of course listening, to New Zealanders.”

Intimidating strength

The sheer strength of National Party in Parliament (56 members) makes the role of the Leader of the Opposition so necessary, and potentially for Labour, so dangerous. Two parties are in coalition with Labour, leading National with a monopoly on mainstream opposition.

The coalition is embarking on several programmes that will entail public-spending.

There will also be plentiful opportunities for demagogic exploitation of measures that, while painful, are needed, and as National says, not least because of Labour’s own profligacy in office, but because the government must be accountable.

Some of his caucus colleagues seem too inclined towards the damaging form of opposition.

Simon Bridges has won the battle for national and international recognition. He should not lose the peace that follows it.

Photo : Simon Bridges with Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi at Indian Newslink offices on March 22, 2018

 

 

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