The National Party has voted unanimously to expel rogue MP Jamie-Lee Ross but for leader Simon Bridges, the damage to his reputation could soon prove terminal to his chances of ever becoming prime minister.
As the National Party caucus was meeting in Parliament to decide what actions to take about Ross, the now-revealed leaker of Bridges’ expenses, the MP was holding his own press conference where he spent nearly an hour making accusations about wrong doing in the party.
Ross outlined what turned out to be some serious allegations against Bridges which legal commentators said could mean two years in jail, and immediate expulsion from Parliament, if they were found to be true.
The rogue MP berated Bridges’ leadership style and used the words “corrupt” and a lack of moral compass.
The most serious allegation relates to a $100,000 donation Ross claims a Chinese businessman offered to National in May. Ross alleges Bridges instructed it to be broken up into smaller donations below the limit of disclosure and listed in separate names.
Ross claims a recording of the discussion he had with the National leader will be provided to the police when he lodges a complaint today.
Unless Simon Bridges immediately fights back and undermines the allegations, his time at the top is limited and a new leadership team will be in place by Christmas.
National has effectively lost the 2020 election already, something which must please Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who has been under pressure herself.
Surrounded by his MPs, Bridges “entirely rejected” the allegations about the handling of political donations.
“I invite Jamie-Lee Ross to take these matters to the police and I invite the police to investigate them fully and promptly. They will find the allegations are baseless.”
National says it will now draw a line under the issue and be resolutely strong and focused on the things that matter to New Zealand. However, that is going to be much harder than expected.
Any impetus National had in the debate on rising fuel prices has now disappeared.
National, particularly, Bridges, will face an onslaught of jibes for the rest of this week. And the longer the matter is left unresolved, the further he will slide down the popularity stakes.
National consistently polls ahead of Labour and is by far the most popular party in Parliament at 43%. Bridges’ personal rating is in single figures, something his investigation into the leaking of his expenses did hot help.
Now, he faces allegations over political donations, something the Government will latch upon, holding on for all its worth.
The first task for National is to fight a by-election in Botany. Ross has resigned from the party and will resign from Parliament on Friday. He will stand as an independent.
Despite a high personal standing for Mr Ross within the electorate, National seems sure to hold the seat with a reduced majority.
*Dene Mackenzie is a Dunedin political commentator.