Luxon’s first test before Faithful party after recent stumbles


National leader Christopher Luxon’s first conference at the top of the party comes as the luster of his first few months in the role fades, with some pressure to show he is up to it, writes Sam Sachdeva

When Christopher Luxon takes the stage in Te Pae this weekend for the National Party’s annual conference, he can take inspiration from his surroundings.

The new Christchurch Convention Centre, a favorite project of the previous National Government which opened late last year, is polarizing within the Garden City but serves as an example of the green shoots that can emerge after a long and painful reconstruction.

The choice of venue may come as a relief to Gerry Brownlee, who in 2019 was forced to break a self-imposed boycott of Christchurch City Hall when National held that year’s conference in the auditorium.

The location is also a chance for Luxon to talk about his life story, being born in Christchurch and then educated at Christchurch Boys’ High School and the University of Canterbury (it seems safe to assume that his self-proclaimed “loyal” crusader fandom will be coming at some point).

These biographical details are important for a politician still unknown to some New Zealanders, even though he appears to have been at the top of the National Party for well over eight months.

In last month’s Taxpayer’s Union-Curia poll (a copy of which was obtained by Newsroom), more than a third of respondents had neither a favorable nor unfavorable view of Luxon’s performance, compared to just 18% for Jacinda Ardern and 20% for ACT. chef David Seymour.

Public awareness will intensify as elections approach next year, but the national leader’s team will surely want to get their story out to undecided voters sooner rather than later.

However, not all publicity is good publicity, as Luxon found out after a scorching few weeks.

Taken individually, none of these failures are damning – but cumulatively they look like needless neglect on the part of an inexperienced politician, which Luxon indeed is.

The fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade in June was not in his control, but the repeated reminders of Luxon’s anti-abortion beliefs have been far from helpful to his public image. , even with his insistence, he has no intention of challenging the law in New Zealand.

His decision to label New Zealand businesses as ‘going soft’ during a July speech in London prompted a backlash from the sector that could have been avoided with wiser wording, while turmoil from Tory leaders Britons hampered his efforts for more favorable photo opportunities.

Then there’s the gift that keeps on giving: the Te Puke to-do task, where a video of Luxon’s visit to the regional town was posted on his social media during his family vacation in Hawaii, leading to accusations that he was misleading the public about his where.

Taken individually, none of these failures are damning – but cumulatively they look like needless neglect on the part of an inexperienced politician, which Luxon indeed is.

The confusion over whether or not National is abandoning its policy of indexing tax brackets to inflation also looks like a molehill turned into a mountain by unnecessarily poor communication within the party and with the public.

Luxon doesn’t fare well compared to Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop, two key members of his team who are more polished thanks to their behind-the-scenes experience as former staffers as well as in the political arena.

New Zealand Herald senior political reporter Thomas Coughlan suggested Willis’ strong performance in place of Luxon during recess “may have some caucus members wondering if National’s leadership ticket is in the right order”, as it was Bishop who counterattacked the Labor over the alleged tax policy flip-flop.

At the same time, there are signs that the new leader has made a difference to party morale after several years of dysfunction and infighting.

National has raised about $240,000 in major donations over the course of 2021, but Luxon’s rise to leadership — with the efforts of former Deputy Chief Paula Bennett – saw over $2.1 million declared in 2022.

In an April fundraising email to Labor supporters, the party’s general secretary, Rob Salmond, described the influx of money into National as “worrying” – an attempt to elicit a monetary response from members, of course, but also a sign that Salmond and the party at large are wary of a more credible and revitalized opposition.

Novelty not enough

On a structural level, the departure of Peter Goodfellow as National Party Chairman is also striking after more than 13 years in the position and multiple hampered efforts to move him forward.

Goodfellow’s decision to announce his retirement only after nominations for vacancies on the board have closed has drawn ire from some national supporters, including former MP Maurice Williamson, and any talk of a clean slate seems premature. .

Board member Sylvia Wood appears to be the favorite to succeed Goodfellow, with a background in labor relations and HR potentially attractive to a party that has suffered its fair share of cultural shortcomings.

Wood also appears close to the outgoing president, with Politik reports his staging of a four-person ticket in the 2021 board elections was instrumental in halting efforts to oust the incumbent.

A new face will further help Luxon make the case that he represents a changing of the guard after years in the wilderness.

But novelty alone is not enough, and the success – or failure – of the weekend conference could prove to be decisive in its electoral fate.

Joseph K. Bennett