National’s new leader Christopher Luxon yesterday delivered his part of the deal with Simon Bridges, which saw Bridges withdraw from Tuesday’s party leadership contest.
He will now be ranked at three and finance and infrastructure spokesperson.
However, a planned “unity” photo opportunity and press conference in Tauranga yesterday afternoon fell over when Bridges had to take his son to hospital after an accident.
The son, Harry, sustained a serious accident at school, apparently on a swing, and last night had been transferred to Auckland’s Starship Hospital.
Instead, Luxon fronted the media on his own.
He stressed his own friendship with Bridges which would go back to when Luxon headed Air New Zealand and Bridges was Transport Minister.
“We’re good friends; we’ve been friends for a long time,” he said.
“I worked with them on my past life when he was outstanding Minister of Transport.
“We did a lot of work together around electric vehicles and also around the airline alliances.
“But he is a really prodigious talent.
“He’s got really complementary skills.
“He’s got a big brain and does a great work ethic, so he’s going to be taking it to Grant Robertson.”
Bridges’ track record on economic issues is not substantial.
His recently published “memoir” includes chapters on subjects as diverse as masculinity, music and education but nothing on business, taxation or the economy.
He is close to Paul Goldsmith, probably the most neo-liberal of National’s caucus.
Bridges, understandably, was not taking calls yesterday.
During the Collins leadership, both have been low profile but her economic team, Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse failed to fire.
Bayly focussed on microeconomic responses to the Covid crisis while Woodhouse got himself bogged down in detail over the Imprest Supply Bill.
Luxon has made it clear he wants to follow in the Key-Joyce tradition and be “ambitious for New Zealand.”
“If you’re a small business person in New Zealand, this government doesn’t care about you,” he said at his solo standup in Tauranga.
“They make it really hard for you to get ahead.
“And incomes are growing at half the rate of costs in New Zealand.
“So we’ve got work to do, as I said, and that’s why Simon is the right guy to take that to the government.”
In his maiden speech, he said the New Zealand economy had been underpowered.
“The last 30 years has been suffering a productivity disease,” he said.
“Economic growth has largely been driven by having more people in the country and more people working harder.
“We need to work smarter, not harder.
“We can do this, and we can do it by building and unleashing genuinely world-class export businesses, step-changing education and labour skills, and delivering infrastructure better.
“Improving productivity is the single biggest thing that we can do to raise our collective standard of living.”
Luxon was at pains to argue that he had not done a deal with Bridges.
The facts suggest otherwise.
POLITIK understands Sir John Key tried to persuade Bridges to do a deal with Luxon on Monday, but Bridges rejected that argument.
Then Bridges and Luxon spoke on Tuesday morning; shortly after that conversation, Bridges withdrew his candidacy.
Matthew Hooton then tweeted that he would be finance spokesperson and number three in the caucus hierarchy.
Sources close to Bridges confirmed that was the deal.
Luxon denied that any decision had been made at his first press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
He then travelled to Tauranga today but could not meet Bridges before the press conference because Bridges was at the hospital.
At 1141 National issued an embargoed press statement announcing the Bridges appointment.
Luxon held his press conference at 2.00 p.m.
“There have been no deals done,” he said.
“There’s been nothing like that; it’s actually fundamentally been about making sure that the right person on the right task going forward.”
Media: “So Simon didn’t come to you before he pulled out and said I want finance?”
Luxon: “We had conversations with all my colleagues, and it was along the same lines; do you want to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing or do we want a fresh start; turn the page, go forward, and all our caucus decided to do that.”
Media: “Was the promise of the portfolio what made him withdraw from the leadership race?
Luxon: “We had no conversation about what he would do.”
Luxon says he is talking to each member of the caucus about their roles.
“I’m a new person to politics,” he said.
“I can bring the leadership, but I also need to make sure that we assemble a top team of complementary skills to me, and we’ll be making those announcements on Monday morning.
“It’s going to be rewarding those who’ve done the real hard work.”
However, it does seem some old faces may have a role to play.
“Everyone’s got skills and talents that we need to use and get in the right place,” he said.
“We’re going to have roles for Judith (Collins) and Todd (Muller), all past leaders.”
Placing Collins will be a tricky process. Only a week ago, the caucus voted no confidence in her. Anything that smacks of a reward would threaten the unity he is being so careful to engender.
Todd Muller is a more straightforward proposition. The caucus needs him as it tries to win back the farmer vote from ACT and as agriculture, early next year, goes into the debate about pricing methane emissions.
Muller has been intimately involved over the past five years in developing National’s policy on climate change. He will find a sympathetic ear in Luxon who referred to his own climate change credentials in his maiden speech.
“Air New Zealand was also a foundation member of the Climate Leaders Coalition, and 100 per cent of our company car fleet became fully electric,” he said.
That is a contrast with Collins and her questioning of the Zero Carbon Act.
National appears already to be moving away from her culture wars and her conservatism and heading for the centre of politics — where the votes are.