Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Meet Chris Luxon – the new National leader

Chris Luxon has succeeded in his bid and will become National leader, beating former leader Simon Bridges, who has withdrawn from the contest.

Luxon is the only candidate left in the race, meaning it is all but certain his leadership will be confirmed by caucus when it meets at 3pm today.

Speculation of a leadership tilt has dogged Luxon since he announced he would be stepping down as chief executive of Air New Zealand in 2019, while openly pondering his next step in “corporate life, politics or a not for profit”.

Speculation only increased as Luxon began the long process of becoming an MP: first declaring he would seek selection as National candidate in Botany, attending the party’s retreat, getting selected in Botany, running a campaign and entering Parliament.

Some of that scrutiny was unwelcome – Luxon’s Christian faith became an early focus of his political career.

In 2019, after becoming a candidate, he spoke about his opposition to euthanasia and the Government’s abortion reforms.

In February 2020, after he was selected as Botany candidate, he told the Herald he was surprised at the attention being paid to his religion.

“I’ve been really surprised by the reaction, actually, since I’ve come into the political life because it’s never been an issue before,” Luxon said.

“For me, it’s a personal thing but it’s got nothing to do with my politics.

“I haven’t led Air NZ or Unilever as a Christian CEO. I’ve led it as a CEO who just happens to be a Christian.

“Yes, it drives values, I guess. But I’m not an ideologue who is trying to jam a view of Christianity out on my workforce as a CEO, or as a politician,” he said.

In his maiden speech, Luxon reiterated that religion was “personal” and “not in itself a political agenda”.

“I believe no religion should dictate to the State, and no politician should use the political platform they have to force their beliefs on other.”

Despite this, Luxon was one of just 15 MPs to vote against the first reading of the bill prohibiting protesting in “safe areas” outside abortion clinics.

Not many rookie candidates are subjected to immediate media scrutiny; the morning after being selected in Botany, Luxon did a round of media, subjecting himself to the scrutiny usually reserved for ministers or the front bench of the opposition.

Unsurprisingly, the consensus was the interviews were botched, and Luxon was locked away from media until the election.

Even before being sworn in, while attending a Parliamentary training day for new MPs, Luxon was asked about his leadership ambitions.

He was always clear he had no immediate intention of seeking the leadership, but he could never quite rule out a future run (to be fair, most MPs couldn’t rule that out either).

On entering politics, Luxon likened it to going to high school after primary school.

“You are trying to conquer and master a whole new field.

“So for me, it is understanding my electorate well, how I engage with the party and, if I’m successful, the parliamentary part of it,” he said.

“So for me, I genuinely do feel I’ve come to Year 9 at high school and need to learn from where I start.”

He has used various iterations of that same answer ever since. Now he has gone from Year 9 to head boy.

As Luxon’s Parliamentary career progressed (it’s still barely one year old), he became better at denying that speculation – usually shrugging it off with a joke, as he did just a fortnight ago, when he shrugged off his poor name recognition.

Given the low profile local government portfolio, Luxon had the unenviable task of attacking the Government’s proposals to allow councils to create Maori wards and its three waters reforms. Unenviable because it put Luxon in the position of being torn between proving to caucus he could excel in his portfolio and being dragged down the He Puapua rabbit hole of the Judith Collins administration.

Luxon came into politics after a high flying corporate career.

He worked at consumer goods multinational Unilever for 18 years (think Lynx, Rexona, Dove, Sunlight and Streets ice creams), finishing up as president and chief executive of the company’s Canadian operation.

In 2011, Luxon returned home to head up Air New Zealand, which he did until 2019.

Luxon was always mooted by supporters as a contender in the current race for the leadership, however he was late to declare his candidacy.

After Judith Collins’ kamikaze attack on her own leadership on Thursday, Bridges was quick to declare his candidacy. Luxon appeared to only begin campaigning in earnest on Sunday.

He had the backing of former prime minister John Key, who made no secret of his support for Luxon.

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