Power Play: Luxon's gaffe, Shaw dumped as co-leader, economic woes evident

7:37 am on 27 July 2022

Power Play - It was quite the tableau in Parliament for the first day back after the winter recess: National leader Chris Luxon smarting after a social media gaffe, the Greens front bench putting on a brave face after the weekend's leadership bombshell, and a government feeling the weight of an economy under severe pressure.

National Party leader Chris Luxon and Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver / Samuel Rillstone

Luxon is trying to bluster his way out of a social media post gone wrong, but it's a major misstep when National should be rolling into this sitting block with momentum, and hitting the government on its many vulnerabilities. It appears to be a genuine mistake, as opposed to deliberate obsfucation, but regardless does not look good.

"Today I'm in Te Puke, the heart of kiwifruit country", declared Luxon on social media on 21 July, except he wasn't. He was holidaying in Hawaii with his family.

He's blaming the timing and captioning of the Te Puke post for the mistake, explaining he was there the week before but the post had gone up days later, and the captioning still included the word "today". He added it was "well known" by the media that he was on leave and "away". Luxon says he takes personal responsibility but when first asked about it, did not accept the post was misleading.

"No, the reality was my social media team released what I'm up to over a given week, but the reality is I was here in the middle week of recess working really hard," he told reporters.

He and the team had "learned from it", are now "going forward" and he "wasn't losing any sleep" over it.

As Luxon rose to his feet during question time he was greeted with taunts of 'Aloha' and 'I thought he was in Te Puke' from the Labour Party benches. It's an unfortunate blip for National when those across the aisle are under such pressure.

James Shaw was unceremoniously dumped by Green Party members at the weekend, leaving Marama Davidson as the sole leader until a vote is taken next month. Most Green MPs have one by one ruled themselves out of the contest but gave parliamentary media wide berth yesterday, leaving any comment to Davidson. Shaw should regain the co-leadership at next month's vote but airing dirty laundry and internal dissent within any party is not helpful.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is back in Parliament after a jam-packed series of overseas visits, and returns to domestic problems on many fronts - inflation pushing its way to the front of the queue.

There's enormous strain on health and education, as well as industries across the country screaming out for labour. The government's defending its economic management and the financial support on offer, while pointing to sky-rocketing inflation in other countries and the impact of the war in Ukraine. The opposition continues to highlight the pain many families and businesses are suffering, placing the blame on government spending.

It's a debate that will continue, with Labour demanding to know if that's National's position - what spending would it cut if in power?

Immigration settings are another point of fierce political disagreement; the government argues migration should be kept on a tight leash, targeting highly skilled migrants who are needed in specific industries. It believes unbridled migration risks forcing wages down while creating superficial economic growth, while National and ACT counter that approach is strangling the economy and putting businesses under more unnecessary strain.

Rumbling beneath all of this is the huge reform programme the government pressed ahead with despite Covid-19: the health system, polytechnics, water services ... all with their own challenges.

Frustration is building with Labour, and Ardern and her ministers will have to work hard to take back the narrative, rather than stumble through the election dealing with a slew of political challenges. That's always made more difficult when you have an opposition at the top of its game.

Luxon has made a solid start and is making ground on Labour and Ardern, but that's ground that can be quickly lost. "Nothing to see here" might have helped him wriggle out of today's controversy, but it's been a blow to his credibility and will give his opponents plenty of Hawaiian-themed ammunition to fire off as 2022 rolls on.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs