Stay focused and don’t get distracted.
That was the instruction from Judith Collins when the National Party met for its annual caucus retreat in Wellington earlier this month.
Yet somehow in the space of 48 hours Simon Bridges has mouthed off at the Police Commissioner Andy Coster for being “woke’’ and stormed out of Question Time whilst calling the Speaker a “twat”.
The latter wasn’t even because Trevor Mallard had offended him – he was joining Paul Goldsmith’s exodus after a back and forwards about whether he deliberately ignored Mallard’s ruling.
While all of this provided some much needed entertainment in a place that can be incredibly dull, it’s the wider consequences that National should be worried about.
The Government has been considerably on the back foot over housing, in particular this week, after it was revealed its home ownership scheme announced in 2019 has housed just 12 families as of January.
It’s a $400 million scheme and Housing Minister Megan Woods has been flailing around trying to defend it – not helped by a fancy social media video where she claimed to be proud of how it was transforming lives.
National’s housing spokesperson Nicola Willis has been focused and on message saying it shows how “out of touch’’ Labour is.
As one of the Opposition’s better performers in Question Time, Willis had a robust line of interrogation for Woods on Wednesday that got completely overshadowed by schoolboy antics.
To make matters worse the other narrative causing a massive distraction for the Opposition right now is also coming from Camp Bridges.
The party’s justice spokesperson called out the Police Commissioner in a tweet, saying that “this softly, softly approach from our wokester commissioner’’ would lead to gang and gun violence only getting worse.
This was in reference to a police operation targeting guns held by organised crime groups and gangs.
He doubled down on his comments on Tuesday and by Wednesday Collins was fielding dozens of questions about its appropriateness.
Collins says it’s not the party’s position but that she’d spoken to Bridges and told him to focus on the Government and its ministers, because “it’s the ministers who set the agenda’’.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was happy to weigh in and say he should never have made the comments.
The problem for Collins is she can’t legitimately call Bridges out on his behaviour.
All too many times in the past she has been the one creating sideshows and making off-hand remarks that don’t wash with the leadership.
She also knows there are still MPs who support Bridges within the caucus, and singling him out and making an example of him could lead to more unrest.
It begs the question as to why Bridges is playing this game.
Either he thinks this is a sensible use of the Opposition’s time in the spotlight, or he simply doesn’t care.
Nothing about how Question Time operates is perfect and Green Party co-leader James Shaw isn’t wrong when he says a lot of the heat and bluster would be taken out of it if patsy questions were dumped.
Mallard’s over-the-top actions on Wednesday led to shadow leader of the House Chris Bishop once again trying to call a motion of no confidence in the Speaker – something National has promised to keep doing all year.
National is in a position where a majority Labour Government means many of the allocated 12 questions go to the Government making statements on already announced policies.
It makes Question Time tedious and irrelevant and all of Parliament would gain from an hour of robust probing of the Government’s policy.
That’s why an Opposition exists after all.
But with both the Speaker and Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, showing no interest in changing how things operate, National will just have to play a smarter game.
More housing questions and less calling the Speaker a twat would be a good starting point.