Now let’s  see  how  Christopher Luxon  develops the image of  a  “caring” National Party

Only  weeks   into becoming leader  of  the  National  Party, Christopher  Luxon has  succeeded   in  pulling  together   his   troops  and at  the  same  time  re-shaping the  message  he  thinks  is needed  to  attract  back the  413,000 voters who drifted  away  in  the  last  election.  The  question    is  whether  he  can  pitch the message  to  haul  back  some of  those  who  voted for  Labour  in 2017  on  the  basis  of  their  promises, but  have  since  realised Labour ministers  don’t  have  the  ability  or  capacity to   deliver them.

Initially  there  was  some  uncertainty  that  Luxon,  with  only   a  year behind him  as  an MP, could   unify  the  faction-ridden National caucus.  But he  settled  those  doubts  impressively   at  the  two-day  retreat  at  Queenstown,  not   least  with  his two  warring  predecessors,  Judith Collins  and Simon Bridges,  showing up  to  breathe  a  new  spirit  of   sweetness  and  light by  the  lakeside.

Luxon  has  resumed polling  to get  the mood of voters, re-engaging  David  Farrer’s  Curia, and  will  use  the  techniques  refined  by  John Key  and Bill  English of  focus groups and  internal polling   as  new  policies  are  formulated.

According  to  Thomas  Coughlan  in  the  NZ  Herald, underneath Luxon’s  corporate sheen lies  a  political  geek,  and  his  geekery  had  him seize upon  the idea  that  National  might  be  able  to  detoxify its  brand as  David  Cameron  and George  Osborne  detoxified the  Tories when  they took  power in 2005 to win  the  general  election  in 2010.

Coughlan’s  insights   are   useful:  his  report  is  headed “We need to  show  we  care:  Luxon”.

As leader,  Luxon says he wants to change the framing that National is just the party of the economy while Labour focuses on social issues and the Greens have a monopoly on environmental issues.

He insists on the importance of providing equitable opportunities:

“It’s not good enough to write off a whole portion of New Zealanders who are poor and doing it tough.”

But if these comments about moving away from the bootstraps mentality, and providing “powerful interventions to help those people lift up; rise up; and get their shot at the Kiwi Dream”, had anyone thinking Luxon favours a Labour-lite approach, he quickly put paid to that.

And Bill English  has  bequeathed ideas  and  techniques  for  the  reform of  welfarism.

As English  spelt  it out  in  an article  in The Australian  last  month, he  does not necessarily want cuts in welfare spending – in fact he says sometimes more money will have to be spent – but he wants governments to start using data and technology to pinpoint where funds can be directed to achieve results.

After 40 years of “persistent failure” in welfare in the West, he says, we need a fresh angle and

“… the freshest is the mixture of actuarial models, data tools, customer segmentation – really boring down, really getting to understand the risk factors down to quite small components of your community”.

Since the 1980s, many governments in the West have tried to tackle problems with the welfare state by slashing national budgets, but English says:

“In my experience, the best way to achieve fiscal control is to actually solve the problems of the people who are driving the spend. Bureaucracies are very reluctant to admit that what they’re doing is not working … but we shouldn’t pretend when we know we’re failing.”

Sometimes much more money is needed, he says, but it has to be applied in ways that work, dealing with one problem at a time.

Hence the social investment programme he did in Government. Compare that to the billions being wasted by the current Government.

“The first thing for governments to do is admit what they’re not good at,” says English. “And what they’re not good at is complexity – that is, people who need multiple services, and don’t fit the boxes. So those people are all getting little doses of commodity services that usually wear them out rather than have any impact.”

He points to a “trained hopelessness” in the welfare sector and argues that identity politics is making it worse,

“. because it’s saying that who you are determines what you will be; and, of course, that’s the kind of thing a lazy universal system would say”.

For the people on the receiving end of that bureaucracy, it’s tough:

“People on middle-class incomes … have no idea what it’s like to be enmeshed in 10 different systems (of payments) … these people are worn out … and we give them bad service.”

Targeted flexible support is what is needed, not dealing with 10 different agencies.

What about the bigger philosophical argument that promoting private investment and philanthropy is just a way to cut government spending and avoid responsibility?

English doesn’t pull his punches:

“I think we should have that discussion on the lawn outside the house where the child is getting beaten up, and while the kid’s screaming, we will have that philosophical contest. And when someone wins it, then they’re allowed to go in and deal with the child.”

Let’s  see  then  how  Luxon  develops the  image of  a  new  “caring”   National Party.

According  to Coughlan,  Luxon assigned Simon Bridges Max  Rashbrooke’s  Too  Much Money to read over the holiday.  Bridges  enjoyed  it and  agreed with Rashbrooke  on a  lot of his arguments.

He led a closed-door  briefing  to  caucus on  his  view of the economic situation, and  noted an unusual trend:   increasing  support  for  National  among  the under-40s.

Coughlan says that Bridges – in  his  speech – noted  Labour is  still wedded to Norman Kirk’s dictum that all people want is  “someone  to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to  work, and  something  to hope for”.  He  reckons  Kiwis  are aspirational enough  to  want  a  bit  more  than hat: Education, international careers, even wealth.

“We  know  the size  of  our economy, the  size of  our  economic engine”, Luxon told Coughlan, before adding  that he wants to succeed on issues like health, education and climate.”

As  Point  of  Order  sees  it,    Luxon,  having got  a  disciplined caucus  behind  him, and shaped  the appropriate  messaging,  will   need  to find  candidates  in   tune   with the tactics and messaging  to  fight  in  those electorates, once  held by National,  but  now  in Labour hands.

The  rural  regions  in  particular  could  be  ripe  for the picking. But  National  will  also have  to rebuild its  following  in the  cities  as  well.  None  of  that  will be  easy.

2 thoughts on “Now let’s  see  how  Christopher Luxon  develops the image of  a  “caring” National Party

  1. Luxon should concentrate on returning the country to a democracy first and foremost. Kick climate into touch, which will allow him more to use on things that can be fixed. If he thinks he can fix non-existent climate change he should transfer to the loopy greens.

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  2. The National Party “mould “ which has been in existence since Sid Holland was elected Nationals first PM is no longer relevant in today’s New Zealand. A complete revision is required to make National more acceptable as a Party that is not just about “caring” but has policies that ensure all hardworking people who accept personal responsibility for doing the best for their families are recognised and where necessary supported, Doesn’t matter where they fit in the socio-economic scale or where they live or what they do. It is these New Zealanders we have to rely on to get the country back on its feet. A society that is dependent on government handouts is not going to do it,

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