Christopher Luxon praised for performance after leadership election, listening to groups Government 'has lost'

Two well-known political figures have praised Christopher Luxon's rise to become the National Party leader, pointing out three things he did "really well" on Tuesday and also suggesting he could release an album next year.

Luxon, who only just entered Parliament at last year's election after heading national carrier Air New Zealand, was elected unopposed by his National caucus colleagues on Tuesday. 

Amongst his first comments as leader was a promise to draw a line under the party's recent tumultuous period and a message to the 413,000 voters who left the party that National is back. Luxon said growing the economy and raising productivity were the "single biggest things" that could be done to improve Kiwis' lives and promised more than just announcements and positive PR that he said the current Government is focused on. 

He's won the praise of at least two right-leaning figures.

Trish Sherson, a commentator who previously worked as a press secretary for the ACT Party, told The AM Show on Wednesday that Luxon had a "really strong start".

"I was surprised and I thought what's this strange feeling as Christopher Luxon was giving a speech and doing the Q&A, it was actually that I was leaning in and listening to him. There was a clarity and a confidence that we haven't seen for a while," Sherson said.

"I think it's interesting too, right from the outset, look at how he's framing up this contest between himself and Ardern, between the National Party and the Labour Party. He's framing it up that he is the businessman from the real world who knows how to get shit done. He's going up against the student politicians with big ideas, but no idea how to deliver them. So it's quite a clear framing from the start."

Sherson said Luxon had clearly been "listening to the groups that the Government has lost", noting that he stressed in his speech that "farmers are not villains" and that there would be "a million Kiwis missing at Christmas dinner" because of issues with managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).

"He really had some great lines that I have heard reflected by people, you know, out and about over the last four months, so I think he will start to resonate with people in a way that certainly Judith Collins hasn't."

She picked three things Luxon "did really well". 

"One was the way he framed up aroha for his family. The other one was talking about his geeky country music taste, talking about [how] he's a DIY guy. That does resonate with people. 

"I actually have an idea for Chris Luxon for next Christmas heading into the election. I mean, I think there could be an album on the cards. That would be something to look forward to."

"He really had some great lines."
"He really had some great lines." Photo credit: Getty Images / The AM Show.

Jonathan Coleman, a former Cabinet minister under the last National Government, told The AM Show it was "very clever" for Luxon to rule out making any changes to abortion laws if he became Prime Minister.

"In the end people want someone who is going to focus on the pressing issues and that's the pandemic, how they're going to get back to normal life. 

"There's also major concern about crime, the gangs, and this guy is going to actually tackle those problems with some real solutions because the other guys have had four years and, frankly, a lot of people feel it's going nowhere."

Coleman said electing Luxon was the best option for National in cutting ties with the last few years. He said there'd be "very little tolerance" for any misbehaviour by MPs.

"I think Chris and Nicola [Willis] are going to go right through to the election. They're going to put us in a great chance of winning the election. They're going to bring people back to the party.

"A lot of people have decided they can't support National over the past couple of years. The money is going to start flying back in and this guy is also going to be able to attract the quality candidates that National needs. 

"It's a small caucus and we need to bring in more experience. We've got to bring in more people from the rural sector. We've got to bring in a more diverse-looking caucus, and it's actually going to really excite people about getting behind National again."

Coleman praised the decision to have Willis as Luxon's deputy, pointing out there was a balance between conservative and liberal, Auckland and Wellington and in regards to gender.

Too inexperienced?

One of the questions that surrounded Luxon heading into National's caucus meeting on Tuesday was whether he was too inexperienced to become leader, having been a MP for just over a year. That's often been balanced out by noting his time as the Air NZ boss.

Dr Lara Greaves, a lecturer in politics at the University of Auckland, told Newshub translating business experience to politics can be "tricky". 

"We see some similarities in that in business, you do have to manage a team. You've got a lot of complexities involving situations, things happening really fast, and you have to deal with the media. We've seen that some of his experience might help him to do the job well," she said.

"However, there are a whole bunch of different rules around politics. There are some established players such as [Jacinda] Ardern and [David] Seymour that he is going to have to come up against."

In a Newshub-Reid Research poll last week, it was shown that many Kiwis simply didn't know who Luxon was. In the preferred Prime Minister stakes, Luxon sat on 2.5 percent, compared to Ardern's 41.7 percent and Seymour's 11.9 percent. But both have had a much higher profile.

"He's coming up against some very experienced opponents," Dr Greaves said. "So that will be where it really comes down to his ability to be able to build that strong team."

"I think the inexperience is a huge barrier but there are potential ways you could overcome it with a strong team behind you, both behind the scenes and your shadow Cabinet."

With Christmas right around the corner, and Kiwis likely to start turning off politics, Dr Greaves said Luxon needed to quickly establish himself and do the "pandemic equivalent of shaking hands and kissing babies".

She said he needed to avoid gaffes, but if he did have some, they needed to be "more on that likeable, kind of self-deprecating type fashion". Luxon wouldn't want to repeat what happened with former National leader Todd Muller, who got bogged down speaking about his MAGA hat and had a number of awkward early incidents, Dr Greaves said.