Christopher Luxon to reveal shadow Cabinet in major 'test' of his leadership

Christopher Luxon's picks for his shadow Cabinet will reflect his vision for the National Party going forward, a political commentator says, with the new leader needing to juggle rival internal factions as well as his three predecessors. 

Less than a week since he ascended to the top job, Luxon on Monday will unveil what portfolios he has allocated to each of National's 33 MPs. The former Air New Zealand chief executive has not been shy about stating he will take a corporate approach to managing his caucus, carefully monitoring their performances up against the respective ministers they will be shadowing.

They have a lot of work ahead of them considering the latest Ipsos New zealand Issues Monitor research released in November found Labour was perceived to be the most capable political party at managing nearly every issue facing Kiwis. National wasn't seen as the most capable on any issue, with the Greens trusted most on climate change and environmental pollution.

Already, Luxon has announced former leader Simon Bridges will be his finance spokesperson, hyped up by the new leader as having the "prodigious skills [and] incredible talent" to take on current Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Luxon's deputy, Nicola Willis, will retain the housing portfolio.

Speaking to Newshub ahead of Luxon's press conference on Monday, Dr Lara Greaves, a political scientist at the University of Auckland, said Luxon needs to find a balance in allocating high positions to different MPs who represent different ideological views or types of voters.

"We see National in the past, it's called a broad church, they have to try to have different parts of the electorate voting for them," she said. "It's important for him to try to appeal to farmers, the urban liberals, the more social conservative parts of the party.

"His lineup and who's in his top five will really reflect what his vision is for the party going forward."

Dr Greaves said Luxon faced a number of challenges, from dealing with former leaders sticking around in his caucus likely wanting high-profile portfolios to making his shadow Cabinet announcement nearly a week into December when people are starting to care less about politics.

"We're looking to see what he does in terms of some of the experienced people like Judith Collins, but also some of the newer people, like Erica Stanford and Simeon Brown, and the people thought of as the new talent," she said.

"This is really one of the first tests of his leadership as to how he will balance various competing factions and various potential rivals."

Who will get what?
Who will get what? Photo credit: Getty Images.

Luxon, only a year into his career as a politician, was elected as National's leader last Tuesday unopposed after Bridges withdrew from the leadership race. 

The vacancy came after a vote of no-confidence in Collins after she suddenly demoted Bridges, thought to be looking at challenging her. It's understood Luxon received the support of Collins and her small group of supporters, which could have given him a majority had caucus gone to a vote. That means Collins and her loyalists will likely be expecting something in return.

With Collins having already made it clear she wants to stand in the 2023 election, Dr Greaves said eyes will be on where the former leader is positioned in the new National team.

"Having been the leader before, but also having been a minister in the past, [Collins] is someone who I think a lot of people would pick to be on the path to retirement. It's interesting that she would want to stay on.

"Some of these MPs staying on for Christopher Luxon is a good thing because people have been already pointing to his inexperience. If you're a politician, and people are pointing to your inexperience, having that strong team behind you where you can say, 'well, that person has been a minister' could be a real strength."

Dr Greaves thought Bridges remaining an MP, despite not returning to the leadership role, speaks to his commitment to public service.

"It may be that he has the desire of trying to go for the leadership when potentially Luxon loses the 2023 election, or it could just be that Bridges has decided that in any future National Government, he would want a really important role, such as being the Finance Minister.

"Bridges could have taken the route where he retired or he moved on, sat on a bunch of boards or do some other community stuff... but it seems as though Bridges wants to stick around and that really does speak to maybe his motivations where it may be that he wants to try to make a change for New Zealanders."

The other former leader remaining MP is Todd Muller, who briefly led the party between May and July last year after taking Bridges out in a coup. He stood down from the role after suffering health issues.

While Muller announced earlier this year that he would retire at the next election and wouldn't attend caucus meetings after being found to be leaking against a colleague to media, Dr Greaves said the Bay of Plenty MP may rethink that under Luxon.