Simon Bridges, MP for Tauranga, is assessing his first six months as leader of the National Party and leader of the Opposition.
“It’s had its moments,” says Simon, perhaps referring to the storm over the expenses leak which showed he had racked up a bill of $113,973 on travel and accommodation between April and June. It’s still unclear how the leak occurred.
“But I have still really enjoyed those six months,” he says. “It has been both challenging and rewarding.”
And he has reaffirmed his commitment to Tauranga.
The Prime Minister has left Auckland. The primary residence for Jacinda Ardern, daughter Neve and partner Clarke Gayford is Premier House in Wellington for at least the rest of the parliamentary sitting, and likely longer.
The leader of the Opposition also moved this week – but not to Auckland or Wellington, and not from his patch, not from Tauranga. The Bridges family moved from one end of suburban Matua to the other, just to give the kids some space.
“I woefully underestimated the needs when we first moved from the Mount to Matua – one child, and now three – and keeping them well run and de-energised.” He’s confident some extra land and a swimming pool will fix that, but he may have to get a man in for the hedges and lawns.
”I am grounded in Tauranga,” he says. “I wouldn’t dream of leaving because, ultimately, it’s where my friends are, it’s where my family is ensconced and it’s where my roots are deep. I want to be here as MP but also post-politics one day, when that happens.”
And he remains both “energetic and excited” about the future of Tauranga. “Even though we’re seeing business confidence plummet under this government and a bit of an economic downturn,” he says, “the reality is Tauranga’s going very well and still has a lot of growth.
“Both commercial and residential building are doing well, so it’s hard to be anything but upbeat about the city.”
Simon Bridges’ second home is probably Tauranga Airport. “Like a lot of Tauranga people, I spend a whole bunch of time at the airport catching planes,” he says.
“I always try to be back at the weekend and many a Tauranga person will see me at the top of the Mount on a sunny day.” Although he’s not as fast as he used to be.
Another haunt is Ferguson Park in Matua. ”I have never been a gym bunny, I don’t do that. It’s walking and in inverted commas ‘running’.
“Bill English called it the walk-run and mine is more the slow jog.”
It’s been a challenging and rewarding first six months as leader, holding the government to account and developing National’s plans, and Simon has absolutely no plans to pull up stakes for Wellington.