Luxon takes off and the National caucus wonders what is next
By Richard Harman (author)
The news that the former Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon is to seek National’s Botany nomination should not come as a surprise to the party.
He has announced that he is seeking selection as Botany candidate to replace Jami-Lee Ross who resigned from the party last year amidst allegations of sexual impropriety and claims that he had leaked details of leader, Simon Bridges travel.
That was disruptive enough, but now the candidacy of Luxon could cause more disruption within the National caucus.
Luxon is coming with some big-name support. It is widely believed that the Party President, Peter Goodfellow, has been one who has been encouraging his candidacy.
And former Prime Minister John Key was one of the first last night to endorse his candidacy.
Stuff reported Key saying that Luxon was a "world-class candidate" and "direct proof that a strong and effective opposition like National is a magnet for talent."
Key was promoting Luxon’s abilities during the National Party conference last July, and it was clear he saw him as a future leader.
Nominations for Botany opened last week, and the selection is early next month, so Luxon does not have much time to win voting delegates over.
One other nominee has announced so far; Stephen Lyon, a former army officer and owner of a dive business in Rarotonga, who has recently “moved out of business operationally”, and has moved back to New Zealand.
Like Luxon, he does not live in the electorate.
Lyon is obviously an outsider, but Luxon is not guaranteed selection.
National Party voting delegates have shown time and time again that they do not like big-names being parachuted into electorates with the backing of senior figures in the party.
Ironically, Jami-Lee Ross won selection himself up against a much bigger name in 2011 when broadcaster (and current North Shore MP) Maggie Barry unsuccessfully contested the nomination.
Ross was last night stressing his local credentials.
“I have always given Botany a strong local voice,” he said.
“ My family and I know our community, we shop locally, we visit local parks and beaches, and my kids go to local schools.
I have always welcomed a good, old-fashioned, grassroots election campaign. I fight hard and tough for our community and constituents.
I’ve spent 15 years serving our community, and I’m happy to put my local credentials up for local people to make a decision on.”
He said the overwhelming response he has been getting when knocking on doors in the electorate was that people appreciated a local person standing up for them.
But Luxon does have some connection with the electorate.
"I have a great affinity for and connection with having grown up in the area attending local primary, intermediate and high schools," he said yesterday.
A devout Christian, he attended the Howick Baptist Church when he was a teenager and belonged to the Boys Brigade there.
The Newmarket evangelical church, The Upper Room, says on its Facebook site that he is now a member there, but he is a frequent speaker at faith-based conferences on leadership and is a director of the Christian aid organisation, the Tear Fund.
But Luxon’s biggest challenge now be other dealing with other people’s expectations
First, he has to win the seat.
If he does, then he will have to realise that the introduction of a high flier into any caucus inevitably causes disruption as almost immediately speculation centres on whether they could one day become the party leader.
That happened to the former Reserve Bank Governor, Don Brash, and he became leader of the National Party in a little over 12 months after he entered Parliament.
Sir John Key, on the other hand, who was not nearly as well known as Brash but still came in with a big reputation, took six years to become leader.
There are National MPs who see Luxon as a sort of born-again John Key and believe that if they don’t form the government after the next election, he could be the person to pull it off in 2023.
There is another group who argue that if they don't form the government, then Todd Muller has the background and track-record to become leader.
And there is Judith Collins who has previously endorsed the idea of Luxon becoming an MP but who might feel that if she is to gain the leadership she needs to get in before him so the sooner she moves, the better.
Little wonder then, that Bridges was saying nothing last night about Luxon's move.