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Overshadowed a tad by baby talk

Opinion Piece

Luck and timing play a big part in politics, and they were absent for National leader Simon Bridges when the party’s annual conference opened at the weekend.

Bridges needed to generate a spotlight on his leadership of the party but instead he was gazumped by the news that former All Black captain Richie McCaw and his wife Gemma are expecting a baby.

No prize for guessing which of the two events was attracting the greatest interest on social media. Only the birth of a daughter five weeks ago to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern topped this.

Bridges would not be too upset about it, although the no-doubt strategic reappearance of Ardern in a Facebook video posted an hour after the conference ended might be a different matter.

Commentators generally agree Bridges has worked hard since taking over from Sir Bill English in February. He has just completed a two-month tour of 60 centres in which he met about 10,000 people.

And any opposition leader must be happy to head a party which, despite the presence of a popular prime minister, still polls higher than any other in the country.

The challenge for Bridges is to at least maintain that high poll standing for the party and to gain traction in his own right with National’s supporters.

He knows that as preferred prime minister he cannot begin to match Ardern for now, but he is also aware that New Zealanders are not great fans of personality politics.

And he can play a waiting game with the coalition government, which is showing some signs of fracturing, particularly when it comes to New Zealand First and the Greens who have deep-rooted philosophical differences.

National certainly had things well planned for the conference, choosing the Sky City Convention Centre which was the scene of recent triumphs as the venue, having Sir John Key lend his support, and the announcement of a policy to reduce class sizes — showing new thinking from a party that stumbled into a backdown on this very issue six years ago.

While maternity talk did not help, there is plenty of time for Bridges to get himself better known to the New Zealand public.