Otago Daily Times

Na­tional has some soul­search­ing to do about fu­ture lead­ers

- CLAIRE TREVETT Claire Trevett is senior pol­i­tics writer. Politics · John Key · Jacinda Ardern · Judith Collins · New Zealand · Mark Mitchell · Simon Bridges · Shane Reti · Andrew Little · Don Brash

TO the party faith­ful, Na­tional end­ing up so con­vinc­ingly back in op­po­si­tion is some­what akin to the Johnny and Moira Rose wash­ing up in Schitt’s Creek.

So you can imag­ine the re­cep­tion MPs will get when they front up to the party’s an­nual meet­ing this week­end.

At that an­nual meet­ing, Sir John Key will be a speaker. He will gaze down at the crum­bling ruins of the mighty ed­i­fice the party was un­der his reign and try to as­sure them it can be mortared back to­gether.

At the mo­ment, Na­tional is ir­rel­e­vant. There is pre­cious lit­tle in­ter­est among the wider pub­lic, who pushed it into ir­rel­e­vancy only a month ago.

Labour and Jacinda Ardern are en­joy­ing their hon­ey­moon. Na­tional’s leader Ju­dith Collins could lit­er­ally howl at the moon and no­body would pay any at­ten­tion.

Ir­rel­e­vancy is a prob­lem and it is hard to over­come, but also buys a party a pe­riod of quiet to work things out — a time in which it can ef­fec­tively fly un­der the radar.

It has so far made one de­ci­sion, the cau­cus re­con­firm­ing Collins as its leader.

Many MPs doubt Collins will be the one to lead them into 2023.

Collins was very much elected as a leader for a par­tic­u­lar time and job.

That job was to do what­ever she could to try to sal­vage some­thing out of the com­plete and ut­ter mess Na­tional made for it­self in 2020.

How­ever, there is less una­nim­ity about who could re­place her and even less energy to do so.

Frankly, the MPs are too busy sulk­ing to be pro­ac­tive and the op­tions are lim­ited and risky.

Do they give Mark Mitchell a go? Do they give Simon Bridges a sec­ond go, or is it too soon? (It is.) Do they take a punt on Shane Reti? Or do they leap straight to the next step, and plump for Christo­pher Luxon, anointed heir of Key?

The fact there is no clear sin­gle op­tion is rea­son enough to do noth­ing yet.

It has learnt how self­de­struc­tive it is to change the leader simply to get rid of the ex­ist­ing one.

The new leader has to be bet­ter.

They can­not af­ford to take an­other chance on a ‘‘maybe’’.

Even­tu­ally, there will be one clear op­tion.

Whether jus­ti­fied or not, it is in­creas­ingly clear that Na­tional sup­port­ers see Luxon as the light at the end of the tun­nel.

The ques­tion is how long that tun­nel has to be. Can the end be 2023?

There is a some­thing of a spooky phe­nom­e­non in how closely Luxon’s political ca­reer is par­al­lel­ing Key’s so far.

Both en­tered Par­lia­ment when Na­tional was a very low ebb. Key ar­rived in 2002 af­ter Na­tional’s worst elec­tion re­sult. Luxon landed in 2020 af­ter its sec­ond­worst re­sult.

What lies ahead could also run par­al­lel — a five­year wait and then the as­cen­dancy to the lead­er­ship. It will now be what Luxon is hop­ing for — but it re­lies on Na­tional los­ing again in 2023.

Had Na­tional’s fi­nal re­sult been a lit­tle bit health­ier, it could have stood a chance of a come­back in 2023.

Luxon would then have had to weigh up whether to move ear­lier rather than miss his chance of be­com­ing prime min­is­ter to some­one else.

The cau­cus, too, would have to weigh up whether Luxon was ac­tu­ally their best op­tion for cap­tur­ing back New Zealan­ders’ support in that time frame.

That chance is now so slim Luxon will hap­pily bide his time.

It is far from ideal, but not im­pos­si­ble that Luxon could change Na­tional’s for­tunes in one term even if it falls short of get­ting back into Govern­ment.

Giv­ing Luxon a chance to pull it off would re­quire the rest of the cau­cus to recog­nise he was their best chance, and per­haps their only chance, and put their own egos and am­bi­tions to one side.

He would also need at least two years to get his head around Par­lia­ment.

The best han­dovers in his­tory have been clean ones. An­drew Lit­tle’s han­dover to Jacinda Ardern in 2017 is the most re­cent ex­am­ple.

Back in 2005, Don Brash’s han­dover to Key was so clean Brash even in­volved Key in the re­cruit­ment of his chief of staff, Wayne Ea­gle­son, on the grounds Key was likely to in­herit Ea­gle­son.

For Luxon to do it in one term, it would ef­fec­tively re­quire a quiet ar­range­ment for a han­dover in 2022 with­out the cau­cus churn­ing through lead­ers in the in­terim and fur­ther desta­bil­is­ing things.

It would also re­quire Collins to help pre­pare Luxon and to step aside when the time was right.

Hu­man na­ture be­ing what it is, many of the el­e­ments of this strat­egy are ex­tremely un­likely.

Many MPs in the last term did things they claimed were ‘‘for the good of the party’’ which proved to be just the op­po­site, and that will not change.

As things stand, Luxon will have no ap­petite for the risk of a first­term move.

His best chances re­main to fol­low the path of Key.

Her­ald

The New Zealand

 ?? PHOTO: OTAGO DAILY TIMES FILES ??
PHOTO: OTAGO DAILY TIMES FILES
 ??  ?? Sir John Key
Sir John Key
 ??  ?? Ju­dith Collins
Ju­dith Collins
 ??  ?? Christo­pher Luxon
Christo­pher Luxon

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