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Will National hold steady, or switch?

Editorial

The National Party will show its colours over the next week as it grapples with dire polling numbers four months out from an election.

Leader Simon Bridges has seen support wash away like the revenues of so many Covid-hit businesses, and it is moot whether he and his inner circle can avoid a challenge.

Any MPs considering this — and it would be strange if they weren't, with many of their jobs on the line — should be wary. A last-minute switch worked for Labour three years ago but that was because Andrew Little stepped aside, and his replacement shone on the campaign trail. Bridges isn't going anywhere without a fight, and there is no clear successor in the wings.

“I'm the leader, I'm here to stay,” Bridges told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning.

The first Covid-affected public political poll is out and it closely resembles the Labour Party's leaked internal polling numbers, with National having slumped to 30.6 percent support while Labour could govern alone on 56.5 percent in the latest Newshub-Reid Reseach poll.

Jacinda Ardern's personal popularity is also ascendant, with 59.5 percent rating her as preferred prime minister while Bridges, having just recently got back into double figures, has slumped to 4.5 percent.

The poll is almost as glum for Labour's coalition partners, with the Green Party hovering just above the threshold for entering Parliament on 5.5 percent while New Zealand First recorded just 2.7 percent support.

This suggests trouble for the coalition over the last few months of its term; NZ First leader Winston Peters is already throwing his weight around undiplomatically for the nation's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

With Parliament in recess this week, any National Party leadership aspirants will be doing the numbers and the crunch would come when its caucus meets next Tuesday.

Bridges says the party's campaign will focus on jobs, the economy and rebuilding New Zealand, for which it has a track record of delivery. He is confident National will regain the support it has lost during this time when the Prime Minister has had “wall-to-wall” coverage, and his supporters will point to the party's rapid rebound in the polls after Labour and Ardern had surged in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque massacres.

Meanwhile National has a smaller Covid-related headache in this electorate, where choosing its candidate — as Anne Tolley moves on to the party list for this election — has been interrupted.