How high can Luxon fly?
By Richard Harman (author)
Air NZ CEO Christopher Luxon is by no means a shoo-in to become a National MP.
Getting a nomination will be difficult and even, if he was elected, then he might not receive the warmest of welcomes from some of the key figures in the National caucus.
Getting selected will be his first challenge.
The party’s selection process is heavily weighted in favour of its individual branch members and even more so in big electorates like Botany.
Those grassroots party members have a long habit of rejecting big-name candidates.
The most notable example was in late 1990 when Tamaki, failed to select the World Cup winning All Black captain and Rhodes Scholar, David Kirk, in favour of the former policeman, Clem Simich.
National’s rules apportion selection votes according to the number of members in an electorate.
So when a seat has a large number of members (as Tamaki did), Simich, as a former electorate chair, knew who those voters were and they knew him.
Albeit with some heavyweight support from party officials, Kirk flew in from Oxford to find that he lacked the support on the ground.
The Botany electorate, which would seem the most likely for Luxon, has already had experience of a big-name seeking selection.
In the selection for a candidate to replace the resigned National MP, Pansy Wong; Jamie Lee Ross, with a strong local profile as a member of the-then Auckland City Council, beat Maggie Barry who had a national reputation as a highly popular TV personality.
The converse was true in the most recent selection in Northcote where a run-down electorate had only a small membership and the power, in that case, was weighted in favour of the party hierarchy who got their candidate, Dan Bidois, through.
Left to their own devices, National Party members inevitably choose a candidate they know who has a long record of working within the party.
John Key realised that in 2002 and spent hundreds of hours introducing himself to the party membership in the Helensville electorate.
There are other factors that will play a role.
Being shoulder tapped by someone with mana in the party is helpful.
It is widely thought that Murray McCully quietly backed Erica Stamford to replace him in East Coast Bays.
Luxon has said he has consulted former Prime Minister, John Key, about standing.
That sounds likely.
But though many party members look back with some nostalgia to the Key days, they all don't, and there are pockets of grumbling about how he more or less turned National into the Key party.
There is also his support from Michelle Boag; a polarising figure within National.
That may be important in Botany which is part of a group of south-east Auckland electrodes where the personality-driven faction fight within the Auckland National Party has been evident.
There are three players; Boag, the former party president, John Slater and more recently the MP for Papakura, Judith Collins.
How that would play out in practice is anybody’s guess; none of the three has much time for any of the others.
The other problem that Luxon poses the party .is what impact his election (if it were to happen0 would have on the caucus.
For a start, it would be seen by some sections of the media as a challenge to Leader Simon Bridges.
Newstalk ZB host, Heather du Plessis Allan has said: “If Christopher Luxon's resignation from Air New Zealand is the first step towards him joining the National Party, then we have a new contender for National Party leader. And not just National Party leader, but National Party Prime Minister.”
National faced this kind of challenge from a new MP when Don Brash came in off the list on 2002.
Just over a year after he arrived, he challenged Bill English for the leadership and won, but he did so against a background of a divided caucus, some of whom had been openly critical of the leadership style of English which was marked by a number of gaffes.
Bridges has his critics.
But there are also a number of potential challengers waiting in the wings; obviously, Judith Collins but also Mark Mitchell and possibly Todd Muller and further back in the caucus there are a number of other one-day leadership candidates.
There will also be those in the caucus who will be uncomfortable with Luxon being there at all.
He is not popular in provincial New Zealand because Air New Zealand is not popular in provincial New Zealand.
At least some senior party members consequently believe this would be a good issue for New Zealand First.
POLITIK has been unable to find any senior members of the National Party hierarchy who are willing to declare themselves in favour of Luxon becoming an MP.
Luxon does not end his term at Air New Zealand until September; it was thought that the Botany selection could be before the end of the year, but that is not confirmed.