Wed. Feb 8th, 2023


The Real News Network

New National leader Christopher Luxon’s biggest challenge – and the questions he didn’t want to answer

5 min read

National’s new leader Chris Luxon wants a “reset”, drawing a line under not only his party’s chaotic and toxic past week – but each one of its four tumultuous years in opposition.

In just four years, John Key and Bill English’s brand of competent stable leadership rotted under successive scandals involving sex, bullying, donations controversies and all manner of other improprieties.

That is in the past, according to Luxon, who in his first speech in one of politics’ most cursed jobs pleaded the case for a clean break from all of that.

“We are drawing a line under the events of the last four years, and we are putting them behind us,” Luxon said.

“We are the reset.”

Luxon shared the stage with the party’s new deputy leader, Nicola Willis, both elected unopposed after challenger Simon Bridges dropped out of the race at the eleventh hour.

The pair visually drew a line under the past four years, holding their first press conference not in the old legislative council chamber, familiar as the location where Luxon’s three predecessors began their cursed tenures, but in the Beehive banquet hall, usually reserved for functions headed by the prime minister, and rarely used by the opposition.

By most accounts, Luxon’s first hours as leader went well. His delivered his first speech with calm and answered tough questions with self-effacing charm.

For questions Luxon really did not want to answer, like the role of Māori in three waters, the future of the housing accord with Labour, and his party’s stance on conversion therapy, Luxon made wordy, non-committal responses – reminiscent of his opposite number, Jacinda Ardern.

On National’s housing deal with Labour, Luxon told the Herald later, he wants to returnsome power back to councils, allowing them to do more zoning, but possibly at the expense of delivering the quantity of new houses the bill promised.

Whether those changes will see National part ways with Labour on the accord will be seen when the bill returns from select committee in the next Parliamentary sitting block, which begins next week.

On conversion therapy – essentially the practice of trying to turn a LGBT person straight – Luxon said the practice is “abhorrent”, but would not commit to backing the bill to ban it when it returns from select committee, saying he’ll “have another chat about it” when it returns back to Parliament next year.

Luxon was more explicit around his Christian faith – tellingly the first question that was put to him as leader, and one he was ready for, saying he felt his faith has been “misrepresented and portrayed very negatively”.

“My faith is something that has grounded me and put me into context that is bigger than myself,” Luxon said, adding that he wanted to be “clear” he believed in the “separation of politics and faith”.

That said, Luxon’s brief voting record finds him in a group of just 15 MPs to oppose a law banning protests outside abortion clinics.

Luxon was unclear what the separation of church and state meant when it came to conscience votes.

He said people should not assume his faith means he has one position or another on an issue. But he did not say, when it comes to voting one way or another, whether he would vote with his own conscience, or the conscience of his constituents.

Having spent a little over 400 days as an MP, Luxon has made the fastest ascent to party leadership of any major party in living memory – possibly in history.

Willis too is fairly green, having entered Parliament shortly after the beginning of the last term, making it in after Steven Joyce retired.

Luxon made a virtue of his inexperience, promising a fresh approach, and drawing people’s attention to his other famous job: he is former chief executive of Air New Zealand.

Willis isn’t as fresh as she appears either: having worked as a staffer during National’s last stint in opposition and government, she knows her way around Parliament.

Luxon’s victory caps off a tumultuous period of instability in the National Party.

It is difficult to date when the instability began. Bridges’ leadership was rocked by the Jami-Lee Ross scandals, a rumoured challenge from Judith Collins and an actual challenge from Todd Muller.

Muller’s brief leadership then beget Collins’ leadership, which resulted in an historic election loss and speculation over when, rather than if, Collins would be replaced.

That instability took an unexpected turn on Wednesday when Collins issued a late-night press release demoting Bridges and stripping him of his portfolios over an historic claim of “serious misconduct”.

But questions immediately emerged about how serious the misconduct claim was and whether Bridges’ punishment was genuine, or an attempt to force him out of the leadership race.

Caucus decided it was the latter and on Thursday morning deposed Collins after an unprecedented vote of no confidence in her leadership.

A day later, Bridges declared his candidacy for the leadership. Luxon was himself slow off the mark.

Questions swirled on Friday, Saturday and early Sunday about whether Luxon would enter the race. Former Prime Minister John Key was understood to have initially advised Luxon to wait, but he apparently changed this advice over the weekend, advising MPs to back Luxon.

By Sunday, Luxon was clearly running, and appeared to have an edge on Bridges when it came to numbers. Many MPs were keen for a deal between the pair, rather than have the race go to an open contest.

But as the race entered its final day, no deal was forthcoming. The deal was announced just over an hour before the press conference scheduled to announce the leader.

Earlier in the day, MPs arriving said the most important thing was to have unity after the caucus meeting.

MP Chris Penk said he believed National was in “a more healthy position now” than it had been last week, but “we can and we must” unite behind a new leader.

Bridges’ backers, such as Mark Mitchell, were quick to throw their support behind Luxon, saying it was an “exciting new start”.

Luxon now has asked for a fresh start, but there is no guarantee he will get one.

He now begins the task of reshuffling his divided caucus, with a new line up to be announced shortly.

The caucus is battered, bruised, divided and despondent – Luxon now has the task of forging those same MPs into the team that that can take the fight to Labour in 2023.

Source: Read Full Article