A showdown between Simon Bridges and his caucus critics is coming sooner than expected, Sam Sachdeva reports

National MPs will hold an urgent caucus meeting at Parliament on Friday to discuss Simon Bridges’ leadership, as he seeks to hold off a challenge less than four months from Election Day.

The move comes after Bridges attempted to flush out his rivals by confirming an expected coup attempt during a round of interviews with major media outlets on Wednesday morning.

Bridges told RNZ‘s Morning Report he and deputy leader Paula Bennett faced a challenge from a joint ticket, claiming to be “very confident” he would fight off the attempt and saying: “The overwhelming majority of the caucus are behind me.”

While he did not name the putative candidates, a number of media outlets have reported Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye who want to assume the leadership and deputy leadership respectively.

Neither has publicly confirmed their challenge, but Bridges’ call to bring caucus together has forced their hand and accelerated what otherwise may have been a more protracted effort to gain the necessary majority within caucus.

The party’s 55 MPs will now have to make their way to Wellington with less than 48 hours’ notice, no easy task given the reduced airline and other transport schedules at Level 2.

The emergency meeting follows a Newshub-Reid Research poll placing National at just 30.6 percent – a result which if replicated at election day would see 16 of the party’s MPs knocked out of Parliament.

Bridges has faced persistent speculation about his leadership since assuming the role in 2017, while a number of public missteps in his response to the Covid-19 crisis have reignited concerns about his ability to lead the party to victory.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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