It was “a moment in history” brought about by National’s poor polling that prompted last week’s coup, new deputy leader Nikki Kaye says.
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On Friday the National Party caucus dumped leader Simon Bridges and deputy Paula Bennett and installed relatively unknown Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller and Auckland Central MP Kaye as the new leadership team.
Kaye told Morning Report that the pair were motivated to present their challenge for the leadership during a time when National was not doing well in the polls and they believed they had a better chance of selling the party’s policies to voters.
“We can’t choose the cards we’re dealt in history. To be absolutely fair to Simon, he has worked incredibly hard, he is in my view a very strong performer and actually sometimes you get dealt a very tough hand and we had to make a call ultimately about who was best to deliver the rebuild plan to New Zealand and we felt it was Todd and I.”
She refused to say if the coup had been engineered over the course of a week or had been planned for much longer. She wanted to focus on policy and not look back, she said.
Both she and Muller felt a strong call to step up and present National’s plan in the best light to the country.
“It’s been about a commitment to public service. It’s challenging to do that … Paula and Simon are part of our family and so we made a call and I’m very humbled to be serving in this role.”
Asked if she should have taken over the leadership herself, given the ministerial portfolios she has handled in the past in contrast to Muller’s nil experience in Cabinet, Kaye said: “He has a range of areas of experience that I don’t have, in particular, he’s obviously got huge business experience and that’s what’s needed now to rebuild New Zealand.
“But from my perspective we’ll be working very closely together and I just want to have all hands to the pump to rebuild the country and support him to become prime minister.”
Kaye, who is regarded as one of the party’s leading liberals, said the National Party was at its best when it had its conservative and liberal aspects “in check and in balance” and that was what she and Muller would be presenting to help the country recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
She refused to say which portfolios she would be handling. An announcement was imminent and she would only say that she was happy with her new responsibilities.
Muller is expected to announce his caucus reshuffle today.
Controversy has arisen over a MAGA (Make American Great Again) cap, a signature item for US President Donald Trump, that can be seen on a shelf in Muller’s office.
Kaye said she didn’t agree with everything Trump says, but she knew Muller’s values and people were reading too much into a political souvenir.