The New Zealand Herald

Luxon may be circling National leader’s job

Gloss fading on Collins — but Luxon is waiting in wings, along with Bridges

- Claire Trevett

One option that is now being discussed in National is to reinstate Bridges as leader with Luxon as his deputy and finance spokesman. This plan is still in its infancy.

National MP Christophe­r Luxon’s maiden speech — or rather the social media street parade he promoted it by — was instructiv­e. Most MPs posted a simple video of their maiden speech. Luxon put up numerous posts before and after the event, including paying for Facebook posts of excerpts to be pushed out.

It was akin to the promotion that goes around a leader’s State of the Nation speech.

Despite his bluster about learning to find his way around, it has gone some way to addressing the big question around Luxon’s ambitions: whether he is thinking about tilting at the top job in his first term.

Luxon may not have the choice of waiting — at least not until after 2023.

The hoopla around his maiden speech and his self-confidence prompted some raised eyebrows among his colleagues, but did not ruffle feathers as much as it might have.

The reason for that is an increasing acknowledg­ement among many National MPs — especially the more conservati­ve MPs — that Luxon is seen as their best shot by the party supporters.

That has seen others (with varying degrees of reluctance) put their own ambitions to rest and instead start to work out when and how Luxon could be installed — and what needs to be done to ensure he is ready for it.

One option that is now being discussed in National is to reinstate Bridges as leader with Luxon as his deputy and finance spokesman. This plan is still in its infancy.

There is no doubt Bridges can do the leader’s job. He would almost certainly be the “emergency” option if Collins suddenly stepped down this year. Some in National believe the troubles since Bridges was rolled have shown the former leader’s strengths in the job and suggest that he could make a comeback, especially as the PM’s Covid honeymoon wanes.

The theory is that if Bridges cannot pull it off, Luxon would at least be ready to go.

But that plan comes with many fishhooks, especially for Bridges.

Bridges would know he would be seen as an interim leader, and there would be constant speculatio­n about whether Luxon would roll him.

Bridges may also consider he would remain a viable contender in the future, time would heal old wounds, and it might be better to wait and see if Luxon fails before making his second bid.

When it comes to Luxon, the “when” is the harder part of the equation than the “how” — and whether Luxon himself thinks he will be ready in his first term.

Few come into Parliament prepared to plunge straight into a job as demanding as Opposition leader in their first term.

Former National Party leader Don Brash took over the leadership in his first term and former Labour leader David Shearer took it after 2 years and 6 months as an MP. Both struggled with the media, the scrutiny and political strategy.

In Opposition, minor flaws and single mistakes get amplified and can become terminal, however unfair.

Luxon has a very different background to Brash and Shearer: he is a marketer and the product he is marketing now is himself — and National. He trusts his own instincts, and has dealt with the media before. Luxon not only has to build up parliament­ary and political experience, but also get to know his own party.

Luxon has articulate­d his views on New Zealand’s place in the world and the challenges it faces. But he is yet to articulate what the National Party should look like, and how it could be rebuilt to achieve the aims he has for the country. In that, Luxon is at something of a disadvanta­ge. Unlike Bridges, Luxon has spent a relatively short time embedded in the National Party culture.

In the meantime, Collins is in an invidious position. Her job is supposed to be trying to re-build the party and its reputation. She cannot do that if everybody considers her as simply a place holder, with no prospect of lasting until the election. There is little point beyond malevolenc­e and perhaps a selfdestru­ctive streak in MPs leaking against her and airing the dirty laundry if there is as yet no will to change the leader.

That is purely creating discord for the sake of it, rather than to get change. It leaves Collins to limp on as best she can. All it will do is further damage National’s already battered credibilit­y, and make it even harder to rebuild it in the public eye.

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 ?? Photo / Mark Mitchell ?? Christophe­r Luxon is a marketer and the product he is marketing is himself — and the National Party.
Photo / Mark Mitchell Christophe­r Luxon is a marketer and the product he is marketing is himself — and the National Party.

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