Chris Luxon front runner as National Party seeks saviour after years of bitter infighting

By RNZ.co.nz

Power Play – Political novice Chris Luxon goes into tomorrow’s caucus vote the odds-on favourite to take the National Party leadership.

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Chris Luxon represents the chance for a fresh start, Jane Patterson writes. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The shock of Judith Collins’ kamikaze takedown of rival Simon Bridges has been sinking in for MPs over the weekend; their anger is undiminished even as they regroup to choose a new leader.

Former leader Bridges – who was unceremoniously ousted by Todd Muller in the run up to the 2020 election – has publicly indicated his interest; Luxon, in contrast, has stayed mum, but both MPs have been personally lobbying their colleagues.

The message coming through is the preference for a fresh start, over experience with a fair amount of baggage. There is also a view Luxon could have a better shot at uniting a caucus riven with distrust and resentment after its most recent bout of self-flagellation.

Whoever gets the job will not have much time to celebrate; they will have a much more pressing task to bring the caucus together into some semblance of unity to lurch into the Christmas break and, if the summer goes to plan, have some time away from Parliament.

National Party MP Nicola Willis
Nicola Willis Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

It’s not just the leader to consider – the choice of deputy can balance out geography, ethnicity, gender, or bring warring factions together.

The party’s rules basically leave it up to the caucus to decide how to run the contest, stating only that if a vacancy arises “the Parliamentary Section shall appoint a leader to fill such vacancy”.

Leadership contests can sometimes be run on a ‘ticket’ – a candidate for leader alongside their preferred deputy – but there are no publicly declared pairings in this case. More likely is once the leader is elected, that will dictate who steps up for deputy. A combination of Luxon and Wellington-based Nicola Willis has been floated.

If truly convinced he cannot win, Bridges may endeavour to use his leverage to secure the deputy position and finance role – a Bill English to Luxon’s John Key.

The machinations are largely playing out away from the direct view of the media, with MPs choosing to limit any further damage in the short time available to make this crucial decision.

Parliament is in recess but tomorrow, National Party MPs will return for a 3pm special caucus meeting where they will elect their fifth leader in four years.

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Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchhod

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