The jury is still out on whether its new leader Christopher Luxon actually is the answer to National’s woes.
If Luxon is not, National is truly in trouble. But the jury can at least now start deliberating and National’s supporters will have been reassured by his first appearance as leader.
One of the most tired sayings of Luxon’s short political career is that he is the new John Key.
Key had no compunction about letting people know he thought Luxon was the best choice and Luxon will now have to prove to National’s MPs that he is everything Key said he was.
But Luxon’s first press conference as National Party leader showed why Key had such confidence in him. He was assured and answered most questions succinctly and with confidence.
His first speech could almost have been delivered by Key.
It spoke of Luxon’s belief that while New Zealand was small, it had ambition. It spoke of opportunities and prosperity. There was even a reference to boats. In an interview afterward, his answers on the economy and debt could also have been delivered by Key.
He was inevitably asked about his religion – it is pointed to as a liability for him, mainly by those who sit on the other side of politics but also some in his own tent.
It will be to Luxon what the “rich prick investment banker” tag was to Key – always there but as time passes it will become increasingly irrelevant unless his religion does indeed intrude on his politics.
The target of his first speech was clear in his reference to the 413,000 voters National had lost since the last election.
He told them he would win them back. He is not John Key, but on his first day he certainly put on a good impression of being Key – and that may not be a bad thing.
It could give him a chance of hauling back those old National voters who will see him as representing the stable National they used to know in the Key days – not the fetid mess it has become since.
In the meantime he has to deal with that fetid mess.
The need to ensure peace in caucus is Luxon’s first priority and his reshuffle will be critical.
He is now the leader of a hornet’s nest of grudges and bitter rivalries. One of the reasons he got the job was because he was not involved in any of them.
But that does not mean the other MPs are suddenly going to sit around drinking tea with each other.
The argy bargy of the past few days as Bridges took it to the wire before dropping out will soon fade into irrelevancy. However, Bridges has too large a chunk of supporters and is simply too good not to use where he is best placed.
Luxon should not make the mistake Muller and Collins made of giving Bridges a role that does not keep him busy or involve him in the leadership team.
Bridges would not have wanted the deputy role – but he will want finance. Although Luxon said he had not promised any positions, Bridges should get it.
After that, Luxon need not worry about Bridges too much.
The advantage of Bridges is that while he is a scrapper, he also rebounds quickly. Bridges thrives on hard work and the chance to take down his rivals – that pugilistic nature should now again be focused towards Labour and Grant Robertson.
One of the key advantages Luxon had over Bridges in winning the leadership was the “fresh new face” Luxon referred to himself as having.
There was doubt as to whether the public and some of the MPs would really give Bridges a decent second chance. Some hadn’t even given him a first chance.
Luxon will at least be given a chance.
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