Simon is a good mate of mine. I’ve known him since he was in Young Nationals and used to stay at his place when I was visiting Tauranga. His wife Natalie is one of life’s great people, and they have a great family. He has a great sense of humour, and as is often the case the public don’t get to see the person behind the politician.
Being Opposition Leader in a Government’s first term is tough, yet despite that just three months ago Simon had National polling ahead of Labour and well enough to be able to form Government.
By contrast in February 2002 National was 16% behind Labour and in February 2011 Labour was 18% behind National.
His first six months of leadership saw National outpoll Labour and gain real momentum. Then Jami-Lee Ross went rogue and those gains dropped away. But Simon recovered and in early 2019 National was again competitive.
Then we had the terrible Mosque massacre and the PM’s excellent response to that saw National drop well behind Labour again. But then once again as that faded, National recovered and led Labour in every One News Colmar Brunton poll from June 2019 to February 2020.
But once again events intervened and Simon became a casualty of Covid-19.
This is not to say he has not made errors along the way. Of course he has, as does every opposition leader. But I do think he should get credit for his quite remarkable job of keeping National competitive with Labour for the first two and a half years of opposition.
My hope was Simon would become New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister, but it has not happened. I hope Simon enjoys more time with Natalie and the kids as he decides what to do next.