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“An unfulfilled vision”: can Christopher Luxon lead the New Zealand National Party back to power? | New Zealand


C.Christopher Luxon’s shelves are empty. The massive frames that surround him are free of books, the wide area of ​​his desk is largely cleared of papers, the old oak entrances and exits are not yet crammed with memos. The New Zealand opposition leader’s office is still screaming that it was recently vacated and its new resident has left no trace yet.

“I’ve literally moved into the office for the past three or four days,” says Luxon, circling the window to take a portrait. It was a rapid ascent for the MP, catapulted from the shabby floors of the opposition floor – “the smallest office in the building,” he says – into the polished wooden surfaces of the Führer’s office. “I’m going to get rid of all this awful wooden furniture,” he says, looking around. “I don’t like the mustiness, to be brutally honest with you.”

Luxon’s renovation mission goes well beyond these walls. He has promised to reshape the National Party, which has been plagued by dismal polls, internal unrest and leadership problems for 18 months. In his first speech as Führer, he promised to rescue the party from the doldrums. “We are the reset,” he announced from behind the podium. “National is back.”

This comeback can be difficult. Luxon was prematurely pushed to the top by the implosion of former leader Judith Collins – a seasoned iron-willed political actor whose leadership publicly collapsed last month after she was sacked by the party after an unfortunate attempt to downgrade her – a political rival based on her allegedly inappropriate comments made in 2017.

Luxon, a former Air New Zealand chairman who has only been in politics for a year, was hailed as a promising hope for central New Zealand when he entered parliament. He is now taking over the helm much sooner than he or his supporters might have wished, and in an unprecedentedly short period of time he has switched from the newly minted New Zealand MP to the grand party leader. Not only does it unite a divided faction – including three ex-leaders with different personal ambitions – but also has the task of fighting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who won a majority in the last election and has passed four opposition leaders so far.

MP Christopher Luxon takes his parliamentary oath as National Party leader Judith Collins looks on.New national party leader Christopher Luxon was a MP for only a year before being catapulted to the top. Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

In view of this, Luxon is tirelessly alert and infallible on the message. “If you look at our history over the past four years, there have been a lot of dysfunction, I think the easiest way to describe it,” he says of the party. “The exciting thing about this week is that we came together as a team, we had a seamless change in leadership, and we ended up moving forward as a united team.” He doesn’t blink at the phrase “seamless change in leadership”.

So far, commentators on the right have been cautiously pleased with his performance – no major mishaps that marked his early days, nothing to puff the hopes of proving Ardern a viable counterpart. Luxon describes his lack of experience in parliament as a strength. “That’s what this reset was about,” he says. “Leaving the baggage in the past, turning the page and moving forward.” Instead, he relies heavily on his experience in the corporate world, which will help him get “results” where other politicians rumble.

“A worthy opponent for Ardern”

The lack of results is one of his main lines of attack against Ardern, who he says leads a government of “spin and PR” rather than action. “The prime minister is a very effective communicator, but actually the country needs a lot more right now,” he says. “People actually want to see results and results.”

It is a criticism of the Ardern government from both the left and the right – the government has struggled to be assertive on some important, protracted issues. The declaration of a climate emergency has not led to a decrease in New Zealand’s emissions; Amid the housing affordability crisis, a number of reforms have not prevented Auckland prices from rising an average of $ 113,000 over the past three months; Most of the $ 1.9 billion investment in mental health went into non-essential services. The country’s Covid response has produced some of the best public health results in the world, but is now entering its most difficult and unsafe stages.

“I think the New Zealand public … is looking for someone to address some of the frustrations right now – so far they have been able to articulate that message quite well,” said Brigitte Morton, ministerial advisor in the last national government. “I think he will be a worthy opponent for Ardern.”

People will quickly expect great things from him – so time is not on his side, Shane Te Pou

It remains to be seen whether Luxon has any clear alternatives to offer. “He comes with an optimistic, if unfulfilled, vision,” says Ben Thomas, a political commentator and former national government official and press secretary. “What is not there are details,” says Thomas, “especially the things that later become relevant – such as his individual political positions.”

In these early interviews, Luxon’s style can sometimes resemble his office shelves. The essential architecture of a political leader is in place – a backstory, a willing grin, vision statements, a predilection for the term “fundamental” – but the shelves are sometimes empty, especially with details. In his home country, he talks about New Zealand’s need to increase productivity and improve infrastructure – he feels good. Elsewhere, his statements can become vague. In foreign policy, he will not rely on New Zealand’s standing in the Five Eyes safety network; details of whether New Zealand should risk angering China, its largest trading partner, by joining the US-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

New Zealand Party Chairman Christopher Luxon (right) and Vice-Chairman Nicola Willis.New Zealand Party Chairman Christopher Luxon (right) and Vice-Chairman Nicola Willis. Photo: Mark Mitchell / AP

On the subject of his evangelical faith – a relatively unusual term in New Zealand political leadership – and how it could influence his handling of decisions of conscience such as abortion, euthanasia and the legalization of cannabis, he again uses broader brushstrokes. “I want to be the Prime Minister of New Zealand who happens to have faith – not really the believing Prime Minister of New Zealand,” he says. “I have a personal belief, I haven’t been to church in five years. It’s basically something personal to me, it gives me meaning, it gives me meaning, it puts me in a context of something bigger than myself. And I think that’s a good thing. ”He points out that he doesn’t Has plans to revive the abortion reform which, in his opinion, was “decided” by the last parliament.

As for housing, like his political counterparts, he is unwilling to say whether house prices should come down – even though even a 30% drop in prices would only put Auckland back in the heady days of March 2020.

“The question of whether house prices should fall is difficult to answer – we definitely want house prices to become more affordable for everyone,” he says. “There may be a time when house prices, frankly, are going down, but in the long run we want slow, steady, steady growth, not strong double-digit growth.”

Luxon itself owns seven properties, one of the largest and most valuable real estate portfolios in Parliament. He says that doesn’t detach him from the New Zealanders who don’t own a home.

In the coming months, the new leader’s challenge will be to fill the gaps in his vision. “People will be expecting great things from him quickly – so time is not on his side,” said Shane Te Pou, a political commentator and former Labor Party activist. Then again, he says. “The National Party needed a change. They are certainly much better off than they were two weeks ago. “

“A galvanizing effect”

Thomas says the broad brushstrokes are probably all Luxon needs: he has the quiet weeks of New Zealand summer to do the strategic work of concretizing a political vision for the party and learning to articulate it.

“The challenge for him will be to react instinctively and nimbly in what is essentially a 24/7 media environment where politicians are expected to be present and have an opinion on many issues,” says Thomas. For someone moving from relatively nondescript portfolios to spokesperson for the party, that could prove difficult. “His greatest challenge will be the unity of the caucus,” says Morton. And Luxon says that this will be his first focus.

“I’ve seen a lot of political parties have a very charismatic leader and a very bad team, and they do very badly,” he says. “[I’m] I do a lot of things for the first time because I am new to politics. But it underlined the value of teamwork and the fundamental conviction that politics is a team sport. “

Among the party supporters, says Thomas, Luxon’s rise had “a galvanic effect” – even if it did not reach the heights that provoked Ardern’s exit from her ailing party before the 2017 elections.

“Instead of pure excitement, the emotional response has been soured with relief.”


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