National leadership challenge: The six contenders after Judith Collins rolled

On Tuesday, National will meet again to elect a new leader after Judith Collins was this morning voted out.

It is early days and there is a lot of horse-trading ahead. The names in the mix include:

Mark Mitchell: the Third Time Lucky Guy?

Mark Mitchell entered Parliament in 2011 as MP for Rodney (now Whangaparāoa).

Mitchell, who has held ministerial roles – including Defence – under John Key, and then Bill English’s leadership (briefly), has put his name forward twice in the past.

Last year he lost against Collins after Muller resigned. He also put his name forward after Bill English stepped down in 2018, but withdrew from the contest just before the vote and threw his support behind Bridges instead.

North Shore-born-and-raised Mitchell is a centrist, and cites Ronald Reagan and Key as political inspirations.

The 53-year-old is a former police dog handler, who then worked for 10 years in the Middle East, including starting his own multi-million dollar private security company.

There, work involved providing security for diplomats and officials in war-torn areas, and he even became a top international hostage negotiator.

He returned to New Zealand with a hunger to enter politics ahead of the 2011 election.

Simon Bridges: the Lazarus

Bridges is the most experienced of the contenders, having entered Parliament in 2008 as MP for Tauranga – a seat he has held ever since.

He was elected leader of the party in 2018 after Bill English resigned, becoming the first person with Māori ancestry (Ngāti Maniapoto) to serve as leader of a major party in New Zealand.

Bridges held the leadership role with relatively steady public support until the pandemic hit, and his and the party’s critical approach fell out of favour with the public. Todd Muller contested his leadership and emerged victorious.

Since being pushed out of the role Tauranga-based Bridges has worked on his image and appeal to the public, and even published an autobiography. He had been considered the lead contender to take over again as leader from Collins with her support slipping, until the developments of this week.

Bridges, 45, is a Christian, and describes himself politically as a “compassionate conservative”.

He was born in Auckland, and grew up in Te Atatū, West Auckland. He worked previously as a lawyer, and has studied and worked in the United Kingdom.

Christopher Luxon: the Rookie

Dubbed the “new John Key” even before he entered Parliament, Luxon has long been touted as a future National Party leader.

The former Air New Zealand CEO was elected to the Botany seat in 2020, after disgraced MP Jamie-Lee Ross left National.

Since then, he has largely kept his head down, in his own words stating he has “a lot to learn” before ever considering putting his hand up to take the party’s top job, despite near-constant speculation.

Luxon holds the party portfolios of local government; land information; and research, science and manufacturing. He is regarded as a hard worker, and well across his areas.

He is politically conservative, a Christian and has been outspoken on certain issues.

Luxon, 41, was born in Christchurch but now lives in Auckland.

He spent 18 years working with multinational Unilever, even serving as CEO of its Canada operations. In 2011 joined Air New Zealand and became CEO the following year.

He is a friend of Key, who he sees as a mentor, and secured the National Party candidacy for Botany – a sure seat for the party – in 2019.

Nicola Willis: the Strategist

Wellington born-and-raised Nicola Willis entered Parliament in 2018 on the National list after Steven Joyce retired.

Willis played a key role in the Simon Bridges coup last year, working behind the scenes with her old Victoria University debating mate Chris Bishop.

That saw her initially rewarded, shooting up 31 ranks to number 14, before being demoted after Collins took the top role.

Willis is a member of the party’s liberal wing. She currently holds the Housing and Urban Development (including Social) and RMA (Housing) portfolios for the party. She has been one of the most active and effective Opposition MPs recently, holding the Government to account on its housing track record, particularly around social housing and safety concerns.

Prior to entering Parliament, Willis was a senior adviser to John Key, a role that included preparing him for election debates in 2008.

Her CV includes a stint as a Fonterra executive, where she worked with Todd Muller. Prior to the 2017 election, Willis helped English, who had replaced Key as prime minister, prepare for the election debates.

The 40-year-old lives in Wellington with her husband and their four children.

Chris Bishop: the Battler

Bishop, as the party’s Covid-19 spokesman, has been one of its most prominent and effective MPs recently.

Bishop, born and raised in the Lower Hutt, entered Parliament in 2014 for National as a list MP. In 2017, after a strong local campaign, he wrested Hutt South off Labour, becoming the first National MP to win the seat.

Over the last two terms he has at various points been party spokesman for police, regional development, youth, infrastructure and transport. The latter two portfolios were stripped from him, along with his shadow leader of the House portfolio, in a minor caucus reshuffle by Collins in August.

That move was seen as punishment, after a conversation was leaked by a member of the public suggesting Bishop was unhappy when the caucus decided to vote against a ban on conversion therapy.

A member of the party’s liberal wing, Bishop has been outspoken on a range of social issues.

Bishop, 38, played a significant role in the May 2020 Simon Bridges leadership coup, acting as Muller’s “numbers man” alongside Nicola Willis.

Under Collins’ leadership Bishop has played a strong role in holding the Government to account over its Covid-19 response.

Dr Shane Reti: the Safe Pair of Hands

Dr Shane Reti entered Parliament in 2014, winning the Whangārei seat for National, and again in 2017.

In a horror election night for National, Reti failed to win the seat in 2020, losing by just 431 seats to Labour’s Emily Henderson (he won by over 13,000 seats in 2014).

Despite this, after the dust settled Reti emerged as the party’s deputy leader, picked by Collins.

Reti – or Dr Shane as Collins referred to him – had more or less kept his head down between entering Parliament and earlier last year and didn’t have much of a national profile until Covid-19 hit New Zealand’s shores.

Even then, he took a back seat to National’s then health spokesman Michael Woodhouse before being promoted in Collins’ first reshuffle.

After that, he was one of National’s main players.

He went from number 31 on Simon Bridges’ list, to 17 under Todd Muller’s leadership, soon after being bumped up to 13 in another Muller reshuffle, before being catapulted to number 5 under Collins.

Reti, 58, used his medical background to take the Government to task over its Covid-19 performance and to challenge former Health Minister and now Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins over the decisions he made.

Having studied at Auckland medical school, Reti practised medicine in Whangārei for 16 years and served for three terms on the Northland District Health Board.

He then worked in the United States for seven years, becoming a Harkness Fellow at the Harvard Medical School and worked in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, a teaching hospital for Harvard.

In his maiden speech, he said he had been born into a state house, the eldest of five children in a working-class Māori family whose father had left school at 14 and mother had left school at 15.

He described an important event in his childhood that he said had shaped his attitude to life, including an example of institutional racism.

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