National's Simon Bridges continues beating 'wokester' drum, denies desire for leadership

Simon Bridges and Andrew Coster spar in fiery exchange over gangs. (Video first published in February)

His leader might disapprove, but National MP Simon Bridges has continued beating the “wokester” drum over gangs and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.

Now he says he is not pursuing a return to the party leadership.

Appearing on The AM Show, Bridges doubled down on his criticism of Coster, who he has called a “wokester”.

“You can see it in the consequences. And let’s be clear, it’s the Labour Government as well, with police pursuits, they’ve done away with armed response teams, they don’t do anything about illegal checkpoints and roadblocks ... they now take in his words a ‘nuanced’ approach to gangs and guns and drugs.”

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Simon Bridges v Andrew Coster.
Robert Kitchin/Stuff
Simon Bridges v Andrew Coster.

Bridges, the former leader of the party, earned a reprimand from leader Judith Collins over his attack on Coster earlier this week, when Bridges called Coster a “wokester” with a “softly, softly approach”.

On Friday he denied he was refusing to listen to Collins and said he “never” wanted the leadership again.

“I don’t want to be leader, I just want to say how I think it’s going on in New Zealand ... What I want to do is get up in the morning and say what I think is going on.”

Bridges said he had 45 emails from serving police officers and they were worried that police had become social workers rather than enforcing public safety and the law.

National Party leader Judith Collins has publicly reprimanded National MP Simon Bridges over his wokester comments.
National Party leader Judith Collins has publicly reprimanded National MP Simon Bridges over his wokester comments.

Bridges spoke the day after he was embroiled in a fiery spat with Coster in a Justice Select Committee meeting.

Coster refused to take several attacks by National MP Simon Bridges lying down when he came to a select committee on Thursday.

The temperature of the exchange, which took place days after Bridges called Coster a “wokester”, got so heated that Bridges asked Coster to treat gang members as firmly as he treated members of parliament.

The initial attack came days before Coster was due to appear before the committee meeting for the agency’s annual review.

It also came as new gang figures were released by police that indicated a rise in gang numbers – although Coster has said the gang figures shouldn’t be taken at face value, given the list was easy to get onto but hard to exit.

Speaking to RNZ, Coster said he welcomed scrutiny of what police were doing but would not comment on being called a wokester by Bridges.

He said the latest numbers on gangs were “context” only information for police. ”But it’s not particularly useful as a statistic.”

There was “some truth” in the growth of gang numbers in New Zealand, hiked by the creation of new gangs by returning offenders from Australia.

“It's the harm, really, that we should be concerned about. It’s not a criminal offence to belong to a gang, however we know that gangs are involved in organised crime and criminal activity at very much higher rate than other parts of our community.”

Police were doing more to target organised crime than ever before, Coster said, with more firearms and assets seized and more drug-related charges laid last year than in 2019.