Immigration Minister, Erica Stanford

National’s caucus reshuffle yesterday abandoned political niceties as loyalties in the recent leadership contest were all but ignored.

Most notable was the promotion of Erica Stanford, the immigration spokesperson, from position 26 in the 33 person caucus to eight and a place on the front bench in Parliament’s debating Chamber.

Bridges supporters counted her as a firm Bridges vote in the leadership contest. There were some suggestions she might even run as his deputy.

But her advocacy on behalf of migrant families separated by Covid and MIQ has won her widespread support from within the migrant communities.

It was a topic she has brought a personal passion to; her father was a Dutch migrant. the former TV producer has a degree in politics and is married with two children.

Luxon has now added the education spokespersonship to her roles.

He has already made it clear that he sees education as a key to lifting productivity, one of his core goals.

“We’ve got to really redouble our education and really invest in education as a means of building the skills that we can so we can access high paying jobs, get high salaries and wages, give people more choices,” he told his first press conference as leader.

She will work closely with Simon Bridges in this area because he too has singled education out as a barrier to lifting productivity.

Stanford will have as an associate Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds.

Advertisment

She will also be tertiary education spokesperson. Her experience as CEO of the Southland Institute of Technology, which became famous for its “zero fees” policy, was, presumably, a reason for that. Simmonds is thought to have supported Luxon.

Luxon has rewarded his own loyalist, Chris Bishop, with an elevation from eight to four and the restoration of his old position as Shadow Leader of the House. He will continue as Covid Response spokesperson.

Bishop had the Shadow Leader’s role stripped off him in August by Judith Collins after he authored a social media post criticising her decision not to allow a conscience vote on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill. He was then forced to oppose it.

The other big move on the front bench is Matt Doocey from 21 to eight. He is Chief Whip (though that may change), but, more importantly, he is a highly regarded electorate MP from the South Island. Who Doocey supported in the leadership contest is uncertain.

Only four of the caucus top 20 are from the south.

Though Luxon has rewarded two Bridges supporters, Stanford and Brown, he has also demoted one of Bridges’ close friends and allies, Todd McClay. In Bridges’ caucus, he was ranked at five; now, he is outside the top 20 who can expect to form the Cabinet and is at 22.

But the big downwards move, not unexpectedly, is Judith Collins. She is now ranked just inside the top 20 at 19 and is spokesperson for Research, Science, Innovation and Technology. She may see this role as a chance to campaign against Matauranga Maori in science, but the caucus leadership might prefer that she tackle Research and Science Minister Megan Woods over her proposed restructuring of the Crown Research Institutes.

There will be some Bridges loyalists in the caucus who will be annoyed that she has any post at all.

They would prefer that she was given the same treatment she gave Todd Muller and that she was excluded from caucus meetings.

Her core of four supporters, whose votes are believed to have given Luxon his majority, have had a mixed result out of the reshuffle.

David Bennett is immediately below Collins at 20 in the lineup and spokesperson on economic and regional development.

Andrew Bayly is no longer Shadow Treasurer and is now spokesperson on small business and a number of other business roles. Maureen Pugh is a spokesperson on the community and volunteer sector; Harete Hipango is spokesperson on Maori Development and Whanau Ora.

Muller himself is now back, ranked at 25 with a spokespersonship on oceans and fisheries and internal affairs.

He has, however, rescinded his decision to retire, and like his nemesis Bridges, he can now begin a process of redemption, which could see him further up the caucus list with weightier responsibilities before the next election.

But the big change will be the front bench; Luxon, Nicola Willis, Bridges, Bishop, Shane Reti, Louise Upston, Stanford, Doocey and Brown.

Melissa Lee, McClay, Bayly and Woodhouse move off to be replaced by Nicola Willis, Stanford, Doocey and Brown.

One appointment made by Luxon yesterday may signal the direction he wants to take National. He has appointed Scott Simpson, who is already environment spokesperson, to be climate change spokesperson as well.

There were concerns that Collins and her climate change spokesperson, Stuart Smith, were subtly moving the party away from the Zero Carbon Bill consensus that Muller had negotiated.

Smith’s refusal to go to COP26 was seen as an indication of that.

Simpson is a close friend of Muller’s and also the chair of the party’s Blue Greens group.

It would seem with his appointment that National is back on the climate change path defined by the Blue Greens, Nick Smith and Todd Muller.

In what is becoming a Luxon theme, he said yesterday climate change was another area where Labour had made a declaration but hadn’t delivered.

“Emissions have gone up; we’ve got more coal than we’ve ever had; we’ve got lower levels of renewable electricity,” he said.

“And so you can talk about a bumper sticker and a declaration, but you’re not actually following it through.

“My observation of the Green Party is that it’s become less focused on the environment in recent years than what it historically was.

“If I look at the UK Conservative Party and the position that it’s built with respect to climate change, I think that it has used centre-right politics and principles to be able to advance climate change. (policies)

“If you’re in the UK, if you’re concerned about the environment, you vote for the Conservative Party.

We are the people that fundamentally can say, here are the challenges, and here’s the plan by which we’re going to deliver and improve that.

“And I want us to get into the management and the planned delivery of climate change. (policies).”

Luxon knows National can occupy this centrist position on climate change and try and win votes off Labour while critics and opponents of current climate change policies can go to ACT.

His whole reshuffle yesterday has produced a softer, more centrist look to National.

That contrasts with Judith Collins and her predilection to get into Trump-like culture wars.

Luxon is nothing if not strategic.