National MPs defend Christopher Luxon despite poll showing falling levels of support for him

By Russell Palmer RNZ

National MPs say there is more to leader Christopher Luxon that he has yet to reveal to the public, after a poll showing falling levels of support for him.

Luxon tested positive for COVID-19 last night, leaving his colleagues to defend him after last night's 1News-Kantar political poll showed the leader dropping 5 percentage points to 17 percent in the preferred prime minister stakes.

His rival for the role of prime minister, Chris Hipkins, gained a four-point bump to 27 percent. While Labour lost a small amount of support, a 4 percent lift for the Green Party to 11 percent would allow them to form a government with Labour if they won Te Pāti Māori's support.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, Luxon's deputy leader Nicola Willis was confident Luxon was still the man for the job.

Deputy leader Nicola Willis
Deputy leader Nicola Willis Photo credit: Newshub

"Me and our team have 100 percent confidence in him," she said.

"He's not only going to last till the election, he is going to be the prime minister that New Zealand needs at a critical time... I have faith that Christopher Luxon and his record of experience and delivery is the man for the moment."

Willis said National was reading the room right when it came to what New Zealanders wanted.

"It's us that for years now have been saying we have a cost of living crisis, the government should be more disciplined about its spending, we need to manage the economy better so that New Zealanders face a lower cost of living and can experience higher incomes.

"That's been our tune for a long time - Chris Hipkins has lately learned how to hum it, but that doesn't mean that the leopard has changed its spots."

But it was the party's health spokesperson Shane Reti who provided perhaps the most fervent defence of his leader, saying the more the public saw of him the more they would like him.

Dr Shane Reti
Dr Shane Reti Photo credit: The Hui

"Maybe that's our job to make sure that New Zealanders get to know more of him. I see the man that you don't see. I see the man after hours, and get to have those conversations and I think if New Zealanders can see that they'll be as impressed as I am.

"There are still many parts, many facets of Chris Luxon to be revealed to the public, and I'm impressed and I stand behind him.

"Some of those conversations I have are conversations that will stay between myself and Chris and it'll be for him to reveal those sides of him ... it will be for him to bring forward to New Zealanders those parts of his personality, his theme and his vision that he wants to share.

"This is a man who will be the next prime minister and I have tagged my colours to his flag."

He said Luxon had only been in the job for just over a year, and it had not been easy to tell his story so far in 2023.

"He's been very busy ... and it just behoves us to continue to portray what Chris Luxon is really about and how good he really is.

He said Luxon's speeches at Rātana and Waitangi had focused largely on topics that were relevant to Māori, and he "may want to have a broader breadth of scope and show more parts of him".

"I think there's been a lot of issues that have sort of removed the opportunity for us to tell more of Chris Luxon's story - we had the cyclone, we had Rātana, we had Waitangi, you know - various parts of this year that haven't given us the opportunity to quite tell more of the Chris Luxon story."

Campaign chair Chris Bishop had a similar sentiment, saying Luxon had been out of the public eye.

"These numbers bounce around a bit, we're well on track for the election," he said.

"I just think he's been out of the public limelight for the last couple of months and I think quite rightly people didn't want him to play politics over the Cyclone Gabrielle, but also the floods.

"There's a long way to run to the election and we've got a lot of policy to announce and a lot of things to say over the next few months."

MP Paul Goldsmith said it was just part of the ebb and flow of election year.

"I'm very confident that when we get back to talking about what has actually been achieved over the last five years we'll be in great shape for the election, because nothing much has been achieved."

He said Luxon had not been in the spotlight so much recently.

"But I'm sure again when we get back to that issue of what's been achieved and who's going to put New Zealand in a better place next year I think he's going to do very well.

"I think he's going to be a great leader. He is a great leader and he'll be a great prime minister ... he's a very determined New Zealander who's determined to lead National to victory this year."

MP Andrew Bayly suggested New Zealanders would be persuaded by the party's economic focus.

"Obviously the government's had a lot of media play, but when you look at the economic outlook ... 44 percent of people are saying they're pessimistic about the economic outlook, I think we've got some challenges ahead and I think the government's got some challenges ahead - particularly with the recovery in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay and how they deal with that.

"Look, Chris is out there, obviously he'd like to see the polls higher - I imagine, if I was him - but he's out there doing a hard job and we're obviously starting to roll out policies and I think when people start to see the policies that we're rolling out they'll see the measure of the person."

Simeon Brown said Luxon was doing a "great job" as National's leader.

"We've got a big job ahead of us between now and the election, we've got to focus on making sure we're focused on the issues that matter to New Zealanders, and that is the cost of living crisis and that's why we put out our family boost policy just last week.

"We've got policies out there that we will continue to roll out as we head to the election, Christopher Luxon has the job that's ahead of us, we've all got a job ahead of us, to sell that to New Zealanders - and that's what we're going to do."

"If you look at the polls we're in a position where it's going to be a very close election, and we've got a job to make sure that we win the election, that's what we're focused on doing."