• When Christopher Became “Chris”.

    So, the first polling results on Christopher Luxon’s leadership of the National party are now available. The polling I refer to is not a public opinion poll but the private polling conducted by the National party itself. All parties conduct such polling, usually by means of focus groups, and they use qualitative rather than quantitative techniques. Such polling is useful in identifying the public’s reaction to specific issues, and particularly in sounding out their response to individual figures, such as new leaders.

    We can make a reasonably informed assumption that such polling has taken place and speculate about the results it has thrown up. The key tell-tale is a change that has taken place in the way the new National leader is presented. Christopher, it seems, has become “Chris”.

    The polls have almost certainly shown that “Chris” is more likely to be seen as a man of the people, whereas “Christopher” sounds more like someone from the social and economic elite – a former businessman, for example, who owns seven houses, from which he derives a substantial income as well as a handy capital gain.

    A huge amount depends on these early reactions to the new (and so far, untried) leader. If he can show an early improvement in National’s fortunes, his position is strengthened and momentum is achieved. If not, though, the danger is that National finds itself lumbered with a second Todd Muller.

    Which way do the odds point? The worrying factor for “Chris” is that the National party caucus is still a nest of vipers and the viper-in-chief is still alive and kicking. Judith Collins would not be Judith Collins if she did not still harbour the illusion that she could yet be Prime Minister – and Simon Bridges, more realistically, is still young enough to think that he could outlast a whole succession of party leaders.

    A second cause for concern for “Chris” is that, as he surveys the talent available to him in the parliamentary party, he must surely ask himself the question as to why this younger cohort could not find from within their number someone who could make a serious challenge for the leadership. Is the National party so bereft of talent that they had to draft in an outsider with no political experience to lead them?

    What happened to the Woodhouses and the Goldsmiths and the Bishops, who had seemed to be so ambitious for higher things? What is an inexperienced leader to do without a really able (and hopefully loyal) team to support him?

    The best guide to how the new leader is faring is to watch for further presentational changes. A leader who is uncertain as to how well he is going will be under constant pressure to tweak various aspects of his public persona. What next to expect? A sex change is presumably a step too far.

  • What Else Do We Know About Luxon?

    What do we know so far about Christopher (or is it to be “Chris”?) Luxon?

    We have so far been allowed to know only that he was chief executive of Air New Zealand, that he is an evangelical Christian (that is, a proselytising, and not just your everyday,) Christian, and that he is a friend and political protege of John Key.

    What do those sparingly released items of information add up to? The first two, taken together, present a somewhat unattractive picture – of a business leader who believes that his view of how society should be run is not only endorsed but also demanded by the God he worships.

    Such a belief is well encapsulated in the words of the old hymn –

    The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    God made them, high or lowly,
    And ordered their estate.

    The picture they paint is of a socially conservative man who believes that everyone “has his place” and that this is ordained by God. This seems hardly the stance of a political leader who can lead us through the manifold and rapidly changing challenges of the modern world – with all the varying needs and demands of a society that is increasingly heterogeneous, in terms of its ethnicity and sexual preference and religious belief and need for social mobility.

    The “reset” he promises seems likely to mean a return to a past era, not just for the National party, but also for a country that should be preparing for a post-Covid future.

    This image of someone whose concept of society is rooted in the past is somewhat borne out by his apparent links to his mentor, John Key. Luxon as Key, Mark II, may appeal to some dyed-in-the-wool National supporters, but is unlikely to make many converts to the Luxon cause.

    We are now sufficiently distanced from Key to recognise that he was an old-fashioned con-man – a skilled one, perhaps, but a con-man nevertheless.

    Key was, in reality, a right-wing ideologue who managed to persuade the electorate that he was hardly a politician at all. It seems unlikely that Luxon has the John Key lightness of touch and sunny disposition to enable him to pull the same trick again.

    So, what are we left with? There may in fact be little more to know. Luxon may well be what you see – no more, no less – a middle-aged white male who succeeded in business, and who is burdened by most of the inflexible prejudices and ingrained beliefs that most such people typically acquire.

    His one claim to suitability as leader of the country seems to be that he is not Judith Collins.

  • Businessman – and Political Novice

    The drums are beating – see Heather Du Plessis-Allan in today’s Herald – for Christopher Luxon’s bid to become National’s new (and latest) leader.

    It is conceded that he is a political tyro but – such is National’s current plight – it is suggested that he is a risk worth taking. In any case, it is argued that he makes up for this lack of experience by the fact that he was the chief executive of a major corporation – Air New Zealand.

    Neither of these claims bears examination. In what other senior occupation – and there is none more senior than Leader of the Opposition, with the implication of readiness to become Prime Minister – would a complete lack of experience be waved aside as being of no consequence?

    Politics is something that can be learned only on the job – and senior politicians would usually take years, if not decades, to learn the ropes. For National to put a novice into a leadership position could only be regarded as a measure of their desperation.

    There is even less to commend the second part of the proposition – that time spent running a large corporation is adequate preparation, and a qualification, for running the country.

    There is all the difference in the world between the two tasks. Running a business has its challenges, of course, but the task is, in essence, a simple one – the bottom line is really all that matters. Running the country, on the other hand, poses a bewildering range of responsibilities, owed to a wide range of interests, all with their own individual as well as collective priorities.

    But the real objection to a businessman in Premier House is that it is fundamentally wrong and a threat to democracy. Pause for a moment and think about it.

    No one can doubt that a market economy provides business people with all the opportunity they need to succeed and prosper, often at the expense of the rest of us; the one thing they will know, after all, is how to manipulate the market to their own advantage. The only way we have of restraining their drive for personal advancement is to put in place political arrangements that ensure that the interests of the rest of us are taken into account.

    That is why we have political democracy. Centuries of experience have taught us that votes for all provide our best chance of ensuring that the advantages enjoyed in a market economy by business are not added to by handing them political power as well. If we were to install a business leader to lead the country, we would be giving up a protection that our forebears had fought to establish.

    For Christopher Luxon, having run Air New Zealand is far from a qualification for the top job but quite the opposite.

  • Political Harakiri

    The National party must always have known that they were taking a risk when they elected Judith Collins as leader. There were, after all, good reasons why they repeatedly declined to accept her candidature when she offered herself – as she frequently did.

    She was always an inappropriate person to lead a political party in a democracy. Her long association with Cameron Slater and her endorsement of his chosen form of political warfare was surely enough to disqualify her.

    The chickens have now come home to roost with a vengeance. Her readiness to pull the temple down around her has been amply demonstrated. She has now ruled herself out from any position of responsibility.

    But she has done much more than commit (perhaps inadvertent) political harakiri. The excuse she has used to skewer her rival has meant that National has been deprived not only of their leader but of an alternative leader as well. If Simon Bridges’ offence means that he cannot be trusted to remain on National’s front bench, how could National offer him as someone to lead the country?

    Politics is a hard business. The pressures it brings to bear on its practitioners in opposition mean that the voters have ample opportunity to judge how well they might handle the challenges they would inevitably face in government. We now have our answer.

  • Important People

    The Herald has returned to form with a vengeance. In today’s issue, Barry Soper snipes at Jacinda’s handling of her regular press conferences. It seems that she did not give him an early chance to ask his very important question and took no account of his need to depart immediately in order to host his equally important radio show. These Prime Ministers! Don’t they know who are the important people around here?

    And someone called Jamie Mackay apparently woke up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for an article that would suit the Herald down to the ground. When he woke up and started to write it, he seems to have realised that – once having said what the idea was (the drawing of a parallel between Jacinda Ardern and Ian Foster) – there was not a lot more to say. But that didn’t stop the Herald from publishing it.

    And there was a “blast” (the Herald’s own term) from Duncan Garner about home isolation. All in all, about par for the course.