I have met the enemy, and he is charmingly mild.
In a 0 centigrade night the Wanaka town hall was so full that they moved us all from a 60-seater to 200 seater auditorium with all the speed of a fire evacuation in a retirement village. They were 70+ average, all chopped bobs and tweeds and 100% whiter than Eastbourne, modern European SUV’s in the carparks, most within range of the Greens’ $4m wealth tax I’d venture.
If you ever went to a John Key post-budget briefing in his first term, he had a no-notes, wander-across-stage Tony Robins charisma that was hard to beat for the suit-set. Luxon attempts that schtick, with a wilful non-parliamentary naivety.
Luxon surprisingly uses almost no campaign rhetoric, no jokes, no cheap shots. No suit or tie; it was jersey over shirt. An effort not to smell political.
He started with standard anodyne bromides about New Zealand being a perfectly placed country that can achieve anything it wants, but is held back by a government taking it in the wrong direction. No repeats of the “wet snivelling lot” line tonight.
His three themes are Law and Order, One People, and the Economy.
He certainly mentions how much more the Labour government is spending on things like health, but never mentioned COVID once. Insofar as he mentions past Labour spending, it’s framed as waste.
When directly asked by Wanaka part time resident Ruth Richardson what his plan for the first 100 days in office, he made mumbly noises about holding public service chief executives to account, but otherwise simply didn’t have a plan at all. This was weird for a senior exec who had run plenty of turnaround plans before.
The one point of applause he got was for bonding health professionals to stay here for several years. He has very specific targets about educational attainment to get New Zealand reading and writing and mathematics standards back to what they were by specific years, and similarly specific targets for the public health system in terms of treatments, timing of specialist care plans, and vaccinations.
None of that registered with that audience.
Not unreasonably he plays hard on the rise in gun crime and gang member increases.
Unfortunately there is functionally no crime in Wanaka other than a bit of recreational meth for the skiers and tradies, so that didn’t connect either much.
No jokes, no jabs, no acknowledgement that he’s in the National Party. He has zero of the rhetorical punch you’d get from Winston Peters of the 2000s or that Jacinda Ardern could muster with a script and a decent runup. Someone get him a speechwriter with some heft.
He is particularly keen on his experience as a retail group manager bringing in stronger anti-cartel regulators that he saw in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
But he has so little political experience you can’t sense whether he could get a bill or a budget through. He has no muscle.
He is similar to Key in that in policy terms he is a mile wide and an inch thick.
I was very surprised for a Wanaka audience he had that he didn’t go straight to defending family trusts, defending more specific tax cuts, and defending housing equity from capital gains taxes. He didn’t mention retirement savings or public spending on retirements either in subsidy or in NZ Super.
If he had done his research on Wanaka he would have recognised how few in that audience were voting Labour or Green, how rich on average they were and hence how wealth-controlling, how much in short he was in white haute-bourgeoisie heaven. Key had that depth of audience research, that ability to pick the cues and pitch back to them.
The audience wanted to be more charmed than they actually were. Which was weird after Labour’s month showing all signs of just coming apart.
Wanaka being a gated community without the gates, he knocked but despite those who came to see him, the crowd didn’t let him in. The Waitaki electorate went Party vote Labour last time with Labour on 43.8% and National 31.6% and it’s hard to see anything but a complete reversal. Wanaka will vote National irrespective.
In evangelical terms he missed the appeal to the crowd to come to the front and repent. That’s because unfortunately Wanaka people believe they’ve already got to heaven.