National looking to win back southern votes

National Party leader Christopher Luxon (right) in Queenstown on Thursday with Southland MP...
National Party leader Christopher Luxon (right) in Queenstown on Thursday with Southland MP Joseph Mooney. PHOTO: TRACEY ROXBURGH
As the former chief executive of an airline, National leader Christopher Luxon knows the value of frequent flyer miles.

Hence Mr Luxon, who was in the South just a few weeks ago as host of his party’s caucus retreat, is back in our ’hood.

He was in Queenstown on Thursday night to speak at a Chamber of Commerce event, before wending his way down the highway to Invercargill, where he will find the ODT sitting outside his hotel room door this morning.

It won’t necessarily be a scenic outing in Penny Simmonds’ electorate but, having said that, the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which he will visit some time today, is a sight to behold.

Thursday being a sitting day you might have thought Mr Luxon might have been in the Debating Chamber, but for at least the past 20 years the prime minister of the day has opted to spend Thursdays out and about somewhere in New Zealand.

With no PM to grill, opposition leaders have generally followed suit and embarked on what have been variously termed grassroots tours, provincial promotions, or more recently — as the pace of change of National Party leaders has accelerated — "getting to know you" trips.

Some recent National leaders have been in office for such a short time that regions like Otago and Southland never got to make their acquaintance at all, or maybe only received a nod and a wave as they sailed past.

Which, of course, is one of the reasons why Mr Luxon is in the position he finds himself in now: the merry-go-round of party leaders in no small part contributed to the historic shellacking National received in the last election, and his rapid rise to the top of the greasy pole.

Just like the US Democrats had their "solid south" once upon a time, in this country that was what the South was for National.

While it was unlikely to win the Dunedin seats, in recent elections it has switched Invercargill to its column with a margin to spare and comfortably held the rural southern seats without much of a sweat.

The 2020 election shook that status quo to the core: Ms Simmonds had to rely on the considerable name recognition afforded her by her stint as chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology to squeak home in Invercargill, and Southland MP Joseph Mooney and Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean had almighty scares before holding their respective seats.

Penny Simmonds
Penny Simmonds

More crucially in an MMP election, National lost the party vote in every single seat in the South Island.

Those were solid southern votes which it relied on to get it home in close elections and to run up the score in landslides, votes which it now has to win back.

Hence why Mr Luxon is back in the region, and why you can expect to see him back a few more times yet over the next 12 months.

While, naturally, National has its focus on Labour, the decision to pay close attention to the Southland electorate in general and Queenstown in particular has been made with half an eye on what Act New Zealand is up to.

Act leader David Seymour has made no secret of his belief that the resort town is receptive to Act’s message and he too has swept in from up north several times since the election.

The two parties will need each other if the governing party is to change in a year’s time, but they also know they will not change a thing if they spend more time fighting each other than taking on Labour and the Green Party.

Invercargill should pose a different type of challenge for Mr Luxon, who it should not be forgotten is still very new to his role, and to politics for that matter.

The visit to Tiwai is a perfect example: National has criticised the way Labour has handled the potential closure of the plant — although that closure, announced to be in two years’ time, remains questionable given its owner has been making noises about its confidence it can survive beyond 2024.

Mr Luxon somehow has to sound supportive of its workers and the smelter’s owners, but also not sound like he would have handed a blank cheque over.

However, the smelter is far from the most serious issue facing Invercargill: it is at the epicentre of a major Covid-19 outbreak, and is also suffering from serious drought — something which Primary Industries Minister Damien O'Connor popped down to survey on Thursday.

Again, Mr Luxon has to balance empathy with the natural political inclination to nag the other side: Labour’s Covid response might be fair game, but it is harder to see what responsibility Jacinda Ardern might have for a long hot summer.

Mr Luxon does have one advantage over his predecessors though; unlike a fair few of them, he actually looks like he is here to stay.

Establishing a sense of permanence is one thing though; Mr Luxon now needs to sell himself and his party’s message to the country.

Coming face to face with some southern cynicism may well be a valuable learning exercise for him as he embarks on that difficult task.

Fever pitch

Rino Tirikatene
Rino Tirikatene
Te Tai Tonga Labour MP Rino Tirikatene was more than a little bit excited on Thursday when Parliament passed legislation to inaugurate the Matariki public holiday.

"This is going to be absolutely fantastic for Aotearoa. I’m so proud. I’m so excited for all of our different traditions and practices that we have, which are all coming to life and will be just so revived from this piece of legislation, from this holiday," Mr Tirikatene enthused.

For good measure, Matariki would also be "so important for us as a country, as a nation, in terms of our identity, who we are, our unique history, our Treaty bicultural roots that we are founded on.

"All of that can be given expression and celebration through the enactment of this Bill and the creation of this new public holiday."

Which is quite a lot of pressure to put on one day, but there you go.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

 

Comments

(1) How will the Nats work with ACT & Seymour???
(2) Why are they pursuing the failed tax relief for the rich policy which NZ can't afford & failed last time?
(3) Has Luxon mentioned privatising health, closing schools, closing railway, having less cops again, wage freezes ??? That will all have to be done to pay for their tax cuts. As yet he has not denied it but nor has any journo asked.
(4) With Luxon being inexperienced and a poor performer in parliament, will he have to employ heaps of advisors?
(5) Where will he get his cabinet lineup from? Not much experience left. They've all jumped ship.
Come down south all you like and wow the sheep - but tell the truth, build up your experience and have policies that we can all relate to and will work.

If as a leader, Chris Luxton is needs to understand he is not leading a business but an economy. To me, he seems not to know the difference but in an economy many people cannot afford to fly, many people do bottom feeder jobs essential to the whole community like cleaners and shop cashiers and farm workers. A huge difference is there is a public service that isn't for profit but is for helping fellow mankind plus making the government run and the nation's infrastructure and promoting a settled, secure country. Seems, Mr Luxton wasn't interested in these people and despite a Covid wave, he wasn't interested in health. I wish he knew these people make the economy go around and talked to them as well - we all are our nation's economy, All part of the cogs and not to be passed over in the worship of the dollar.

There is a very good reason for people being low paid in a lot of jobs.No guaranteed hours of work and expected to be available whenever needed.National changed workers collective strength by passing The Employment Contracts Act in the 90's.This has created a very one sided situation which is detrimental to all workers.Hope people aren't that short sighted to vote for Luxton,his ideology undermines all workers rites.National has never done anything for the working class,just like John Key.Voters beware.

I see Mr Luxton is calling for a cessation of taxpayer subsidies for public transport.
This from a man that was CEO of Air NZ, a company that is 51% owned by the Government, a public transport company by definition. How many times has the taxpayer bailed out Air NZ? Three times. No credibility at all.

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