Friday, January 21, 2022

Luxon takes control – can former Air NZ CEO straighten up National and fly right?

If you know anything about Christopher Luxon, he was once the CEO of Air New Zealand, has been hailed as the new John Key, and is the MP for Botany. Any?

Luxon took on the role of Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition—the sixth since Jacinda Ardern took the reins in the political aisle (or the seventh if you count Nikki Kaye’s day-long stint between Todd Mueller and Judith Collins)—at a time when When the toughest of all political gigs is as tough as it has ever been.

From his new office he will face a global pandemic that has just taken an unwanted turn (meaning media attention will quickly shift elsewhere), a battle-hardened prime minister with 13 years of parliamentary experience (Luxon). 12 months of the year), a fragmented caucus and a weak party organization.

You doubt there will be moments in the coming weeks when he thinks back to his days at Air New Zealand.

Church and State

There will be less time for nostalgia. Luxon has work to do and doesn’t have much time to do. At the top of the list would be introducing himself to the voters of the country, about whom he does not know very well.

His first parliamentary speech provides some useful insights. In it he mentioned his years with Unilever and Air New Zealand, which would play well for the party loyalists. (Although one should be wary of assuming that a successful private sector career necessarily translates into a decent political career. Sure, there is John Key—but so does Donald Trump.)

Read more: As it selects a new leader, the national needs to remember one thing – confidence doesn’t always equal ability

Some of the other stakes that the Luxans have made in the ground may prove more controversial, not least of their religious beliefs. He can claim that his faith “does not have a political agenda in itself” but there is still a question of how some of Luxon’s views will play out with the liberal wing of the party’s base, many of whom joined Labor in 2020.

National needs to get those people back into the fold, but some will find Luxon’s conservatism – he opposes voluntary euthanasia and abortion law reform – off-putting. The appointment of Nicola Willis as deputy would help, but Laxon is the face of the party and will need to make sure he doesn’t permanently alienate Dove-ish national voters.

The train of events set to become the leader of Luxon, after John Key resigned as prime minister in 2016.
Getty Images

In the shadow of Key and Ardern

But Luxon’s leadership faces more challenges on two other fronts. The first involves a long shadow cast by two different politicians – Jacinda Ardern and John Key.

National has a major problem, in that it is still looking for a replacement for the man who led the party in its golden years. The Luxons have secured the top job by any small measure as they are believed to be the closest thing to a national currently of origin.

Read more: Judith Collins may be gone but New Zealand’s search for a credible and viable opposition is not over

But going key-light seems risky when the successor has to go up against a Labor leader who – despite two years of lockdown, MIQs and vaccine mandates – remains ahead in the stakes of the preferred prime minister. National has already tried that strategy with Mueller and it didn’t end well.

Accessing a playbook from the past for answers to the challenges of the present and the future seems a bit unthinkable, especially when the past in question looks like that of another country.

We may have escaped the worst excesses of political polarization and populism in Aotearoa New Zealand (so far, anyway), but we haven’t been completely immune to them. In the post-COVID era they are becoming pressure. Key was prime minister in the past, and there is nothing in Luxon’s political CV to suggest that he is equipped to deal with the kind of contemporary challenges it has never faced.

Luxon takes control - can former Air NZ CEO straighten up National and fly right?
Simon Bridges, runner-up and now one of the four former leaders around Luxon.
Getty Images

A Scholar in the Comprehensive Church of the National

The second major challenge is whether the National can once again become a comprehensive political church.

The parliamentary party has become dangerously polarized in recent years. According to one commentator, the urban liberal wing has been increasingly squeezed by Christian conservatives – “dubbed ‘Taliban’ by the party’s remaining centrists”.

It is believed that the simple act of anointing Laksan will restore the natural order of things. But what if it isn’t? What if that same commentator is right and National continues to morph into a “Trump-like cult”?

The party cast a significant number of votes in both directions in 2020. Some within the National must wake up at night wondering whether this is less than the beginning of the party’s own descent into the current turmoil in Canada, France, Germany. The UK and US, where established centre-right political parties are increasingly being destroyed from within by radical populist elements.

Read more: Why Jacinda Ardern’s ‘clumsy’ leadership response to Delta may still be the right approach

a leader among leaders

This division is already evident in the National Caucus. Luxon’s success (or failure) in dealing with this could have consequences for the party’s survival going forward from the next election.

If the National is to survive, let alone prosper, the new leader must show that his predecessor Judith Collins’ taste for culture wars is no longer endemic to the party.

In the end, Laxon has the dubious luxury of helping and guiding four former party leaders. Mueller will be reviewing his options now that Collins is gone, Shane Ratey is feeling a bit sloppy, Simon Bridges’ ambitions have just (again) been thwarted and Collins has made it clear that his parliament Have no intention of leaving.

But it all lies in the future. The National is looking for a savior and has found its man for now. Christopher Laxon may just be praying that he hasn’t agreed to the Hail Mary pass.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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