31 Jan 2022

National Party 'back', Luxon tells caucus retreat

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 31 January 2022

It's time for National to show some more heart - that's one of the key messages from National leader Christopher Luxon.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon.

 Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

At the party's caucus retreat in Queenstown over the weekend, Luxon told his MPs the party could not only be about economics and needed to show it cared for people.

Luxon told Checkpoint host Lisa Owen: "Having looked at centre-right governments all around the world and centre-right political parties, one of the things is yes, we're very good on economic management and national security and law and order and those sorts of traditional things. 

“But I think there's two challenges. One is that people need to feel that we care about them deeply - and we do care deeply about people - and secondly we need to use our centre-right politics and principles and beliefs and apply that thinking to some of the biggest problems and challenges that we have in this country. 

“So that's my challenge. I think it's the challenge of centre-right parties in general around the world, but certainly for the National Party too.” 

National ended up “talking a lot around economics and we care deeply about making sure we have an economy that means that working people can get ahead. 

“We care deeply about making sure that we've got education system that sets our kids up well for the future. 

“Those are the sorts of issues that we that we do care deeply about.” 

However, National had been “narrowly bounded”, he said. 

Asked if it had been a mistake in the past that the National Party had focused too much on economics, Luxon said: “I want us to use our intellect and our principles and beliefs and use those centre-right means to actually deliver very progressive and good outcomes for people”. 

He also wanted the party to focus on education. 

“We care deeply about kids having a shot at the Kiwi dream, but more importantly, education is the way in which people move in terms of social mobility, and so those bottom rungs of that ladder of social mobility are getting shot because we've got a very poor education system.” 

He would not give an assurance that economics and social issues would carry equal importance in any government he led, but said: “They're very interrelated and so you can't have one without the other.  

“If you don't have a strong society, you don't have a good economy and you don't have a great environment. The thing we have to make sure is - we will always be about the economics because fundamentally expanding our economic engine so that we actually have the money to invest.” 

Luxon suggested “wellbeing” budgets would continue under National "in a broader sense". 

"We started some of that stuff with living standard metrics... we'll be thinking in a broader sense ... the wellbeing budget is a lovely concept and it's been a lovely piece of talk from Grant Robertson, but it actually hasn't been implemented." 

 A policy he wanted National to develop was welfare to work programmes.  

Asked if he would cut taxes for low-income families, he said: “no”. 

"I'm just telling you where we are in the process right now is saying ‘Look, we've gone through a leadership transition. We're resetting the National Party. We need to modernise. But we need to make it electable'. 

“Essentially what we've got to do is oppose the government. But we can’t just criticise the government, we have to be able to propose ideas.” 

When pointed out that was why he was being asked to detail policy, he said “I'm not going to give that to you today”. 

Over the weekend, National’s caucus retreat was kicked off with a pep talk from Geroge Osborne, a senior British politician in David Cameron's former Conservative government. 

George Osborne at National Party caucus retreat in Queenstown

 George Osborne at the National Party caucus retreat in Queenstown. Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

Osborne has been described as inflicting some of the deepest sustained periods of cuts to the public service in the UK and himself said he was tougher than Margaret Thatcher. 

Owen asked Luxon how having him speak fit with his message that National was going to show some more heart. 

"We had George Osborne there because, actually what was relevant to us was where was the Conservative Party in 2005? Another government to come into power and it was trying to make itself relevant, modern and on point so that the British people could support it. 

“That's what we were talking to him about.”