• 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.

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