Richard Prebble: Christopher Luxon hasn’t got much time to make an impression


Christopher Luxon is about to find that being CEO of Air New Zealand was easier.

No one goes to the airport and then decides what airline to fly on. But 10 per cent of voters tell pollsters they decided how to vote while they were in the polling booth.

These are the voters who have never heard of Christopher Luxon. He has a few moments to make an impression before they resume their Christmas preparations.

Two powerful images have helped.

One is Jacinda Ardern being surrounded by protesters wherever she goes.

The other is Luxon being warmly greeted on his walkabout.

It is a powerful subliminal message.

Jacinda represents being stuck at the traffic lights. Christopher is a return to normality.

We may be at a tipping point. ln the Roy Morgan poll, the Opposition parties -National/Act/Māori – have overtaken Labour and the Greens. Act is on an amazing 17.5 per cent.

Being selected as leader of the National Party gives Luxon a soufflé poll bounce. Even the hapless Todd Muller went from zero to 13 per cent, Judith Collins jumped to over 20 per cent and Bill English went from zero to 31 per cent.

If there was a poll today, National and Luxon might be on the crucial 30 per cent.

By February, Luxon must have cemented in the bounce or the soufflé will collapse.

Labour and its allies know they have to take him down. A humiliated Collins may assist them. It is going to be brutal.

Luxon has been attacked for owning seven properties. He says his success is proof he can lead. John Key never boasted about his business success but left it to others. Luxon’s record will be scrutinised. It will be a surprise to his former employers, Air New Zealand and Unilever, that he has “built a career out of reversing the fortunes of underperforming companies”.

Then his religious beliefs are questioned. Luxon was wise to say he regrets his vote against banning picketing of abortion clinics. He says he respects the divide between state and faith. This will be tested.

He and his deputy were subject to a series of “gotcha” questions. “What was the increase in the capital value of his houses?” “What is the median wage?” He did not know.

Worse, his deputy guessed. Never guess. Never answer gotcha questions. Now every cub reporter is preparing their own gotcha question. “What is the price of milk?” is a favourite.

Unless Christopher Luxon wants to spend his time as leader answering a sort of political Trivial Pursuit, he needs to ask himself, “how would Winston answer?”

Voters tell pollsters they want to vote for a non-politician but they elect politicians every time. The trick is to appear to be a non-politician while being a politician to one’s fingertips. Ardern is a fine example.

Now is a time when a skilful Opposition leader can do very well.

Jacinda-mania was pure hysteria. Labour’s manifesto was never popular.

Emotion won Labour the last election too. Ardern made the never-possible but very emotional pledge to keep New Zealand Covid-free.

Now elimination has failed, the Opposition can focus on Labour’s unpopular agenda. The 413,000 National supporters who voted for the promise to eliminate Covid never voted for policies like Three Waters.

A Jacinda Ardern who cannot leave the Beehive without security cannot generate the emotion that Labour needs to get its supporters to vote.

But do not underestimate National’s ability to save Labour.

Yesterday, in Luxon’s first parliamentary test, National came to Labour’s aid by continuing to support Labour’s legislation to turn our garden suburbs into concrete jungles. Luxon should have listened to his electorate and withdrawn National’s support.

In his first press conference, Luxon missed the opportunity to set the agenda. He told us Labour had “nice ideas and good intentions” and was a Government great at delivering good PR but woeful at delivering. Luxon appears to saying he has the business experience to deliver these “nice ideas”.

If that is his pitch, then Act’s rise will continue.

Labour has terrible ideas. Inflation is rising because Labour’s only economic idea was to print money. Labour is failing not just because it lacks management experience, but because it has a socialist agenda. The Government insists on viewing every issue through the prism of identity politics.

We do not need Luxon’s promise of “a new National Party for New Zealand”. What New Zealand needs is for National to rediscover the party’s founding principles. The pledge to provide sound economic management and a government that does not divide us by class, race, gender and age. We wanted Luxon to promise a colour-blind Government where everyone regardless of background has an opportunity to succeed.

So the verdict is pending. Has the National caucus elected another John Key, or another Todd Muller?

– Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.

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