Luxon’s southern conundrum

Christopher Luxon has a problem.

It’s not really a problem of the new National Party leader’s own making, although of course the selection of his new shadow cabinet was his choice and the buck now stops with him.

Neither is it the first or the last problem Mr Luxon will have to grapple with in the top job. There are going to be plenty of those in the months and years ahead, as he grows into the role of chief troubleshooter for the party in Parliament.

The problem is geographical, and a consequence of the way the country voted at the last election, when National simply did not win enough seats in the South Island.

Massey University’s Prof Richard Shaw puts it somewhat more bluntly. He says Mr Luxon "doesn’t have much to play with" in terms of southern MPs and has "a real problem in the South Island because of the caning the Nats got last year".

That dearth of South Island talent is reflected in the shadow cabinet and the party’s top rankings.

The South Island only has four MPs in that top 20 and Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse is the sole representative from Otago and Southland. The other three southern members are Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey, who is now ranked eighth, and Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and Christchurch list MP Gerry Brownlee, ranked 16th and 17th respectively.

Just missing out on the top 20 by one position is Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.

Mr Woodhouse is one of the biggest losers in the new line-up. It seemed to be a poorly kept secret that he would lose the finance portfolio even before it was announced it would go to fellow leadership contender Simon Bridges.

After five years on the front benches, Mr Woodhouse has plummeted from fourth to 18th in the rankings. He is now responsible for state-owned enterprises, ACC, sport and recreation, and statistics, and is deputy shadow leader of the House, playing second fiddle to the new fourth-spot taker Chris Bishop, who is back as shadow leader.

That must be rather galling for the experienced Mr Woodhouse. However, there have been lapses in judgement, such as the fairy-tale of a homeless man taking two weeks of free accommodation in Auckland, an attempt to embarrass the Government about its Covid-19 managed quarantine system which backfired.

There was also the more serious issue of Mr Woodhouse not informing the Ministry of Health about a leak of private Covid patient data he received from (now former) National Party president Michelle Boag. That leak was used by him and then leader Todd Muller to accuse the Government of failing to look after patient privacy.

Mr Woodhouse was lucky to survive as health spokesman, but the debacle left Mr Muller looking out of touch with his caucus.

He was also involved in the bullying of former Labour Dunedin South MP Clare Curran and had to apologise for targeting her and being photographed holding a toilet seat with her picture on it when he was health minister.

Mr Woodhouse said on Monday he was "pretty disappointed" at his demotion but appeared relatively accepting of what had happened.

Also noteworthy is the fall for former leader Judith Collins to 19th-ranked place. Mr Luxon has given her the research, science and innovation, and technology portfolios he previously held, important areas of work which should really be much higher in the rankings.

Ms Collins is enthusiastic about science and innovation, and will give her Labour counterpart, Megan Woods, more than a run for her money. Look for Ms Collins to make some quick hits and progress in this area in the next few months.

Mr Luxon will be well aware of the geographic disparity of his shadow cabinet. It does him, the party and the country no good to give the impression of being overly North Island-focused.

Of the many challenges facing the new leader, recognising and growing South Island talent before the 2023 election needs to be high on his agenda.


 

Comments

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With the absolute failings of the current government, focusing on Covid only, giving borrowed money away like a lolly scramble, l don't think it will be too hard to pass them.
Be nice to get back to a New Zealand where separatism isn't being pushed by the Government.
And 3 Waters can be flushed down the toilet.

Nice to get back to a New Zealand where there is open debate. Eminent British scientist Richard Dawkins has obviously got wind of what is happening here with his strongly worded letter to the NZ Royal Society this week.

"Back" is the word.

You're seriously going to blame Labour for the pandemic. O.....kay.

Chris Luxon was a pupil at Christchurch Boys' High School so probably has a good grasp of the South Island.

Luxon is far removed from the average New Zealander.He has had a charmed life.How could he possibly represent the average kiwi.What claim to fame can he make.His role at Air NZ didn't create great profits or popularity on gender equality.

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