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September 24, 2018 | by  | in Interview Politics | [ssba]

Simon Bridges: “In the end, I decided to get a haircut and a real job”

This week Salient reporter Jess Potter talks to Simon about sexism, drugs, and rock&roll.
Jacinda and the Labour party seemed to have created a decent youth following, with what the media called a “youth quake” and an increase in voter turnout during the 2017 election, possibly having an impact on the Labour party’s rapid rise in support. What are you and the National party going to do to appeal to the youth as you begin to campaign for the next election?
Look, to make sure we get out and about, get them to see us and the talent that we’ve got. We’ve actually got a lot of young MPs brimming with enthusiasm and energy, and I think our basic pitch to younger people is that we are the party that will ensure that you get a first class quality education and the opportunity to fulfil your dreams and your future career here in NZ, not overseas.

Do you have any plans on how you will do that?
I think people will understand that National is a party that believes in quality and excellence in education and will invest in that,and I think in the economy, again there are some people that have a sense that we are the party that manages that better and ensures a more vibrant economy where there are jobs or roles in areas like ICT, space technology, horticulture, and manufacturing, and it’s creating an environment that will, you know, ensure that post university people can fulfil their dreams and ideals in NZ. Something I am concerned about with younger Kiwis again starting to move offshore, especially across the ditch to Australia, cause that’s where the economic opportunities might be seem to be.
Are you going to keep the three years free tertiary education policy of the Labour Party if you win the next election?
We haven’t decided that yet, but you know the students I’ve talked to are pretty sceptical about it and it is fair to say I am too. Because at over $2 billion, you’ve gotta ask yourself what other things could you do in education to raise quality, maybe at the early start when we know children’s brains are literally being knitted together and that’s a crucial time for helping them fulfil their potential. Through to university where we have seen our universities across the board not get worse but certainly slip down the international rankings, as other universities rise up. And so, investment in that is required. So there is difficult choices need to be made about what you do about that but I come back to it, students I talk to and I myself are sceptical about the benefits of the free fees, or be it I understand the need for support around allowances which we’ve seen happen.

Are you a feminist?
Yes, cause I have an amazing young daughter that I expect to be able to reach her potential every bit as much as my sons.
Would you have called yourself a feminist before you had a daughter?
I probably would have, because I am surrounded by strong women who I admire and want to see them fulfil their dreams and whether it’s my mum, my sister, my wife, close friends, my senior colleagues. You look at the top five MP’s in my party, three of them a strong effective women, Paula Bennett, Amy Adams, and Judith Collins. But I’m definitely a feminist for my daughter and for them, and because it is right.
What is the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done, in Parliament or during your younger years?
The naughtiest thing I’ve ever done won’t be told about in Salient magazine, but it hasn’t been in Parliament. Like everyone I did a few stupid things in my youth and that’s part of growing up.
Who would win Dancing With the Stars, you or David Seymour?

I’d back myself on the dancefloor.

Thoughts on veganism? Would you ever go vegan?
Look I’ve tried it before, and primarily for health benefits and so not adverse to it. The truth is it does take a lot of discipline, and at this space in my life I possibly don’t have it as I go to a lot of functions and the like, and meat and dairy slip into my diet. But I wouldn’t discount the possibility of me becoming vegan in later life.

Pro-choice or life?
I think the truth is it’s a complex one, and I’m a bit of both. I recognise the challenges as there are different views across a community. I make sure as the leader of the National party where there is broad swathe of views, everyone is entitled to theirs and to have their vote in parliament as a conscience vote. What we’ve got coming on abortion is a law commission report and I want to read that and really think about what that means in terms of, as you say, life and choice. I probably categorise much more on the pro-life side of things but that’s a bit of a cartoon view as I recognise the complexities.

Have you smoked marijuana?
No, and I appreciate that is not a cool answer and there will be plenty of people out there who feel that maybe I should have, I just never have. In fact I’ve never done any illegal drugs of any kind.
Jacinda kinda stole the “face of generational change” idea, so what are you going campaign and promote yourself as? How are you going to stand out?

I think as just someone who cares and has New Zealanders’ best interests at heart, and ultimately gotta be focused on things that aren’t always the trendy things or the cool stuff, but are things that really matter to you in terms of getting your education and having opportunities here in New Zealand, the economy, health, our environment and the like, I’m caring and focused on you as a New Zealander.
What do you want Salient readers to know about you and your party?
I think I’d just like Salient readers to challenge the stereotypes, which are Labour as sort of for the students and the cool party when it comes to this stuff, and actually we care as well. We’re a strong team focused on you now, but also your future here. I’d encourage Victoria University students to think not just about right now, but where they’re going and which party is going to deliver that future for them.

Which NZ PM is your inspiration?
Well I suppose it is John Key, because I’ve worked closely with him and I’d like his leadership style of being inclusive and thoughtful.
Who’s your favourite NZ PM who isn’t in the National party in terms of inspiration?
*lots of umming and long time spent thinking* I think I admire various bits and pieces of a number of MPs, David Lange’s wit, Helen Clarke’s strength and no nonsense approach, so I think there are things you can learn from most Prime Ministers we’ve had in New Zealand, and Labour ones as well as National.

Have you always considered yourself a good leader? Why?
No, because I don’t think leaders are born, I think they are created. I think everyone can be a good leader if they put their mind to it. My style of leadership is to listen deeply to people and try forge consensus and agreement where that can’t be done, ‘cause sometimes you’ve got to make a stand.
Have you ever considered a career as a drummer rather than in politics?
I did at university for a while, when I was at university I played a lot of gigs as a drummer. And there was a brief time there where I was tossing up music, politics, or law. Look in the end I decided to get a haircut and a real job, I don’t know if it was the right decision but that’s the way it’s gone.


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