National leader Simon Bridges is refusing to directly say that he trusts his highly-ranked MP Judith Collins.
Speculation around Bridges’ leadership of the party has been mounting following his handling of the Jami-Lee Ross and emotional junior staffer sagas, with some of the speculation centred on Collins, who ran against him in the leadership race.
One report in Politik said Collins had the numbers for a leadership bid. Two National Party sources told Stuff that several MPs were uncomfortable with the way Bridges handled the “emotional junior staffer” matter.
Asked repeatedly to on his way into caucus on Tuesday morning whether he trusted Collins, Bridges instead simply said he trusted “his colleagues”.
Asked directly to say the phrase “I trust Judith Collins” he refused.
“I’m being really clear with you: I trust my colleagues,” Bridges said.
Collins for her part said there was no reason that Bridges shouldn’t trust her.
“Of course he should [trust me]. I’m a very hard-working member of caucus, and I do exactly what my job is, which is to hold the government to account,” Collins said.
Asked for her reaction to Bridges refusing to endorse her specifically, Collins said media should ask Bridges about that.
“I’ve been in this business long enough I don’t get personally hurt by little things like that,” Collins said.
When asked if she supported Bridges as leader Collins said she did – because he was the leader of the party.
“Of course, because he’s the leader of the party. He’s the fifth leader of the party that I’ve had and I’ve supported every single one of them.”
Asked if she herself would make a good leader of the party – she has run twice – Collins said that “wasn’t for her to say” and the party already had a leader.
She refused to comment on his handling of the emotional junior staffer matter or Bridges’ campaign against slushy machines being provided to corrections staff, saying these were matters for the leader.
It’s understood Bridges may use this caucus meeting to directly call out Collins for what he sees as disloyalty.
He refused to comment at length on what he planned to talk about it in the caucus meeting.
“I don’t talk specifically about what I’m going to say in caucus, ever,” Bridges said.
He did say that he often talked to his MPs about the need for “discipline and unity”.
“These are things I always talk about. They are things that John Key that Bill English and other leaders have talked about, and I will talk about them today.”
Bridges and Collins were level-even at five per cent in the last One News/Colmar Brunton preferred prime minister poll.