The 'three constituencies' National leader Christopher Luxon is focused on winning back from Labour

National's new leader Christopher Luxon is focused on winning back three constituencies from Labour: farmers, small businesses, and the middle class. 

Luxon's comments came after holding his first public meeting in Morrinsville - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's hometown - where he took aim at the Government for treating farmers like "villains". 

"I don't think this Government cares about farmers and the rural communities. I don't think they appreciate them, I think they've undervalued them. Farmers are not villains," he told a crowd of people in the Waikato town. 

"The reality is, 80 percent of our exports come from farming. This Government is raining rules, regulations and costs down on the farming industry."

Speaking to Magic Talk on Monday, Luxon - who replaced Judith Collins as leader just over a week ago after she lost a vote of confidence - said farmers were one of three groups he hopes to win back from Labour at the next election. 

"I want New Zealanders to know that I think farmers are being left behind, I think small business people have been left behind, and the squeezed middle - people waking up each day, going to work, doing the right thing, but incomes aren't keeping up with inflation. 

"Those are three big constituencies that I think really are frustrated with this Government and we need to develop ideas and proposals to help them going forward. 

"It's those groups in particular who I feel have not been valued as they should be. We do care and we want to back them." 

Luxon is tapping into frustration building up in rural communities, expressed by Groundwell's 'Mother of all Protests' held last month over "unworkable" rural regulations.

National leader Christopher Luxon speaking in Morrinsville.
National leader Christopher Luxon speaking in Morrinsville. Photo credit: Newshub

The demonstrations across the country saw protesters push back on Three Waters reforms, the incoming tax on gas-guzzling imported carsfreshwater regulations, and climate change policy. 

"If you look at SNAs and slope rules and what's the definition of a wetland and freshwater that's going to be set by national standards rather than by catchment," Luxon told reporters. 

"There's a whole lot of costly complex regulations that are raining down on rural communities and I can tell you having spoken to different mental health organisations that farmers are incredibly stressed."

National lost 15 seats to Labour in a crushing election 2020 defeat. Many of them were rural, including Rangitata, which takes in the mid- and south-Canterbury hinterland, as well as the East Coast and Wairarapa. 

In his first speech as National leader, Luxon appealed to voters who turned to Labour. 

"If you are one of the 413,000 voters who moved away from us, my message to you is: from today, National is back."

Labour won the party vote in Waikato but National's Tim Van De Molen won the candidate vote. He introduced Luxon at the public event in Morrinsville, next to the iconic 'mega cow' statue. 

"Morrinsville was fantastic," Luxon told Magic Talk. 

"I just wanted the rural communities of New Zealand to know that we're backing them and we're for them. We understand they need workable regulations but at the moment the volume and pace is just too much and it's stressing them out. 

"It was great. People were really enthusiastic and excited and it was the same thing in Christchurch and the same thing in Tauranga and the Viaduct in Auckland - even out in Botany at the weekend. I think people are relieved that we're back and what we've got to demonstrate now is trust with people for next year."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has denied growing division. 

"I do not accept any suggestion of a rural-urban divide," she said in response to Groundswell protests in July. "What I accept is that we have national challenges."

Ardern told The AM Show last month the Government needs to push the farming sector to be sustainable so that New Zealand products can fetch good prices.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denies there is an urban-rural divide.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denies there is an urban-rural divide. Photo credit: Newshub

"When you say I need to govern for all of New Zealand, I stand by that. Governing for all New Zealand means making sure that we can stand proudly on the world stage and continue to command a strong price for our exports because we are doing our bit on environmental issues.

"We can't have it both ways. We cannot expect to continue to trade with the world and have them want to pay a high price for our valuable products unless we are also doing the work on these issues. 

"Our UK free trade agreement, which is of enormous value to our primary sector, was proof to me that we have to do our bit, otherwise we will not be able to continue to pursue trade agreements of that nature."

She said the Government had tried to strike a balance on issues such as intensive winter grazing and areas of stock exclusion. 

In what was considered by environmentalists a concession to the farming community, the Government will give agriculture a 95 percent discount when the sector's emissions are taxed from 2025

As for appealing to the middle class, Luxon has some competition. ACT leader David Seymour has launched his policies to tackle the cost of living, which includes a middle-income tax cut. Under Collins, National also proposed tax cuts amounting to about $4 a week.

With inflation at 4.9 percent and wage growth at 2.4 percent, the Opposition fears middle-income Kiwis are being squeezed. Some blame has been pointed at the Government for pumping $50 billion of borrowed money into the economy to ensure banks kept lending during the COVID-19 crisis. Prices will rise if there is more money chasing fewer goods and services.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says it kept people in jobs. 

"What I do know is that New Zealanders are going into Christmas with unemployment at 3.4 percent - historically low - and with job growth happening even in the midst of the restrictions that we've had."