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National building towards 2020

Opinion Piece

The last three-day holiday of the summer has come and gone and, apart from Waitangi Day next week, it is back to work for all of us. National Party leader Simon Bridges was already on the job last week with some interesting changes in his shadow Cabinet.

Certainly the biggest was the appointment of Paula Bennett to the new role of drug reform spokeswoman. With a referendum on legalising cannabis being held next year, this is a significant move. National wants it to be part of a co-ordinated package embracing health, education and law and order.

Bennett says she is undecided how she would vote in a referendum, saying only that she is a Westie and not a prude while expressing concerns about drug driving and the effect on young people. Bridges says he will probably vote against.

Perhaps more significant long term are the appointments of Amy Adams to replace former attorney general Chris Finlayson, adding to her finance role, while Mark Mitchell gets Pike River Re-entry, to add to defence, disarmament and justice.

Both Adams and Mitchell stood against Bridges in the post-election leadership contest and will be potential candidates if the party decided to replace Bridges because of his poor personal polling.

Meanwhile Judith Collins will carry on as housing spokeswoman in which she will continue to batter the hapless Phil Twyford over KiwiBuild.

All of this points to National going into attack mode this year as it builds towards the 2020 election.

One interesting suggestion last week was how the party could overcome the problem of finding an ally capable of adding seats. It was suggested that a group of National MPs could stand as individuals or even a faux party, in a deal similar to the one with ACT in Remuera.

Over the weekend a better option presented itself with Vernon Tava, a former Green Party leadership contender, sounding out prospects for a new centrist environmental party. If it worked it could be a game-changer for both National and in ensuring a strong environmental focus whichever the government ?. . . although such a party could also harm National, taking votes from it but failing to cross the 5 percent threshold.