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The flaws in the alleged plot to make Christopher Luxon prime minister

Christopher Luxon. Photo/Victor Carter/Listener

Jumping from the private sector into national politics is easier said than done.

Winter in New Zealand brings on the occasional icy tempest in the news, and journalists and editors strive to find enough combustible material to keep themselves and their customers warm with scandal, controversy or, at least, drama.

The flurry of stories about retiring Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon winging his way into nomination for an electorate seat, and from there into Parliament, the leadership of the Opposition and the prime ministership, is a classic example.

To briefly summarise a few flaws in the alleged plot: Luxon has yet to declare himself a candidate for nomination anywhere; National Party members of whatever seat he may seek (if he doesn’t just go on the list) will have to select him as a candidate; the voters of that electorate will have to elect him; the National caucus will have to vote their present leader out and put Luxon in his place; and the country will have to vote National into office and, thereby, Luxon into the premiership.

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It is possible Luxon may seamlessly make that series of leaps. It is also possible he may do a face plant at any point along the way. With the publication a week ago of a newspaper advertisement appearing to show Luxon following the same progression as former National leader Sir John Key, and a number of supposedly informed comment pieces in the media anticipating the airline boss rising to power, I suspect someone in the darkened back room of New Zealand politics is trying to engineer that desired outcome.

In all likelihood, the people who set Key on his trajectory to the party’s leadership in 2006 are seeking to repeat the feat. What they may be forgetting is that Key took six years to go from MP to PM. If Luxon were to follow a similar path, he would have to enter Parliament next year and then, finally, become prime minister in 2026. This scenario would entail National losing at least two elections in the interim, which, when you think about it, may not be an attractive option to anyone who is already languishing in Opposition.

The only way for a faster rise through the ranks is for the back-room stirrers to insert Luxon into a seat left by a departing MP whom they have encouraged to resign and leave now rather than at the next election, have him win the seat, enter Parliament in 2019 and promptly roll Simon Bridges and defeat Labour.

There are a few tripwires on this path to power as well, starting with finding a sitting MP to commit hara-kiri, let alone convincing party members, the electorate, the caucus and the country to support Luxon’s ascent.

With all the media attention, Luxon may already be reflecting on whether he wants to give up the gentler life of commerce for a far more brutal existence in politics.

For a taster, I recommend reading a stinging Guardian opinion column on British prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson by journalist and military historian Max Hastings, who was once Bojo’s boss in Fleet Street. Arguing he is “unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification”, Hastings goes on to accuse Johnson of “cowardice”, being a “bully” and someone who “would not recognise the truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade”.

When it comes to combustible political material, the UK press seems to be permanently aflame.

This article was first published in the July 6, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.