Monday 7 March 2022

It’ll Take More Than Tax Cuts, Mr Luxon.

Something Old, Nothing New: In a week when smoke billowed over Kyiv and Wellington, what did National’s Christopher Luxon offer? Tax cuts.

IF EVER THERE WAS AN OPPORTUNITY for a conservative leader to seize the political initiative it was this past week. Seldom, in the post-war period, has there been such a confluence of disturbing and distressing events. War in Europe. Flames in Parliament Grounds. Covid-19 cases surging above 20,000 per day. Petrol prices topping $3.00 per litre.

A forceful demonstration of leadership by the Leader of the Opposition was required. A performance that not only addressed the hurt and confusion of New Zealanders, but also offered them reassurance and guidance.

On Sunday, 6 March 2022, the opportunity for a game-changing “State of the Nation” speech was right there in front of National’s Christopher Luxon.

Why didn’t he seize it? Why was his SOTN address such a limp and uninspiring effort? Political leaders worthy of the name possess an intuitive feel for what is on the voters’ minds. They don’t need a pollster to identify the main topics of conversation at the nation’s dinner-tables, office water-coolers, and public bars.

Given the week we have all lived through, Luxon’s speech should have been about security: what has happened to it, and how it might be restored. That is what the country wanted to hear, but that is not what the country got.

Luxon’s SOTN speech was straight out of National’s “Boiler Plate” file. Conventionally structured, rhetorically flat, and offering a policy package indistinguishable from all the other, equally undistinguished, SOTN speeches delivered over the past five years.

In a week when smoke billowed over Kyiv and Wellington: when New Zealanders had been frightened and angered by a series of shattering and bewildering events; what did National’s leader offer?

Tax cuts.

In a nation confronted with the enormous challenge of actually doing something meaningful about climate change – tax cuts. In a country where the restoration of social cohesion could hardly be more urgent – tax cuts. In a world where the red-lines of international conduct have been obliterated under the tracks of Russian tanks – tax cuts. (Although, to be fair, Luxon did address a few maudlin sentences to the people of Ukraine at the top of his address.)

This was not the speech of a serious – or even a very careful – politician. In his de rigueur castigation of Labour’s “socialism”, Luxon offered up the following anecdote:

“I remember sitting in a modest Moscow flat with a couple in their late 40s on a dark and snowy afternoon. It couldn’t have been clearer that socialism – in terms of Government control of everyday life and lack of rewards for hard work – had abjectly failed and actually created misery.”

Except that the Soviet Union blipped-off History’s screen in 1991 – when Luxon was still a university student. The earliest he is likely to have visited Moscow as an employee of Unilever was sometime after 1993. That would put his Moscow family squarely in the period of Neoliberal “Shock Therapy”. It was a time of accelerated social and economic collapse when millions of Russian workers lost their jobs, their homes, their pensions, and their hopes. The Yeltsin Years, when average Russian life expectancy actually fell.

If you’re going to sing the damnations of Soviet socialism, it helps to belong to a generation old enough to remember it!

The “Moscow Family” story is, however, illustrative of the “paint-by-numbers” approach of Luxon’s speechwriters. Clearly, the National Party possesses no one as talented as John F. Kennedy’s Ted Sorenson, or the US Republican Party’s Peggy Noonan and Pat Buchanan. Even more clearly, Luxon lacks the literary skills of a Barack Obama. The rhetorical genius of a Winston Churchill? … Sadly, no.

Does it matter?

Surely, the preponderance of recent poll data indicates that all Luxon has to do to win in 2023 is to sit still and not be Jacinda Ardern. If he can do that for the next 18 months, then all the smart money is on him becoming New Zealand’s next prime minister. Why draw attention to yourself with grandiose speeches about the state of your country and/or the state of the world? Surely, the offer of modest tax cuts is precisely the sort of small, but ideologically reassuring, gesture that will get National over the line?

Perhaps. If all the indicators pointed to New Zealand emerging from the worst of the Covid-19 Pandemic by the end of the third quarter of 2022, with life rapidly returning to normal by Christmas – well then, sitting still and saying as little as possible probably would be the best strategy. Especially if the fast-fading Covid Crisis throws into sharp relief all the unfinished and unstarted business of the Sixth Labour Government.

But is that any longer a particularly likely scenario? Is it not more probable that the Russo-Ukrainian War, internationally, and the ongoing breakdown of social cohesion, domestically, will foster a much starker, less forgiving, and more polarising kind of politics? A politics of daunting policy options and high-stakes gambles. A politics of fearless saviours and unforgiving avengers. Luxon might just pass muster as the hero of a fluffy Hollywood rom-com, but he hardly makes the cut as a Marvel super-hero.

Certainly, there is nothing in Luxon’s SOTN address to match the tone of Jacinda Ardern’s speech following the extraordinary events of 2 March 2022. This was not a “kind” speech. Indeed, it revealed the Prime Minister’s cold fury at what had transpired on Parliament Grounds. More importantly, it drew attention to the explosion of misinformation and disinformation that had fed the violence on Parliament’s front lawn, and which continues to eat away at the nation’s social cohesion. Something, she warned, that would have to be addressed.

Set forth in Ardern’s speech are the themes that will likely drive the political discourse of the next eighteen months. Perhaps the best way to encapsulate the Government’s new strategy is to cite the title of that greatest of trade union fighting songs: “Which Side Are You On?”

In its essence, it will ask the New Zealand electorate to choose between those who understand how radically the world has changed, and how much the country needs to change if it’s to keep up; and those who refuse to acknowledge that New Zealand is well beyond being restored to something approaching normality by a handful of modest tax cuts.

In the scathing words of Finance Minister Grant Robertson:

“National is still missing in action on a plan for the major issues that will define New Zealand’s future. The speech said nothing about how we will meet the challenge of climate change or seize the economic opportunities that come from a low carbon economy to provide higher wage jobs.”

Luxon will need to lift his game by a significant margin if he is not to find himself and his party positioned on the wrong side of history.

Recalling the first verse of “Which Side Are You On”:

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

If Luxon lets Labour manoeuvre him into the role of J.H. Blair, then he can kiss good-bye his chances of becoming Prime Minister.

To have a fighting chance, he’ll need a lot more than tax cuts.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 7 March 2022.


Doug Longmire said...

Luxon has yet to tackle the He Puapua attack on democracy.
If and when he does this - he will touch base with the 70 - 80 % of Kiwis who do not want an apartheid, race based, divisive nation.

CXH said...

'In the scathing words of Finance Minister Grant Robertson:

“National is still missing in action on a plan for the major issues that will define New Zealand’s future.'

The arrogant hypocrisy of the man. In four years in power he has come up with no plan at all, yet feels entitled to bitch about the opposition.

The fact his statement is being feted, rather than ridiculed, is a sad indictment of those repeating it.

Odysseus said...

Putin's invasion of Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief the crucial importance of energy supplies to Europe's and our own survival. That is a real crisis, as opposed to the imaginary crisis of "climate change". Increased taxes, including on fuel, are of real importance to the many who struggle now to make ends meet from week to week. The continued profligacy of government spending contributes to rising inflation with no end in sight. Yes, the other major issues of the day, such as Labour's ethnonationalist agenda, might have deserved a reference, but ultimately, "It's the Economy Stupid".

Shane McDowall said...

Tax cuts. How original.

What next, Get tough on crime ? Take the bikes off the bikies ?

Anyone would think it was a few months before the election.

If the National Party had an original idea, it would be lonely.

Graham Wright said...

I take your point about Mr Luxon’s SOTN speech being designed to avoid rocking the boat, but it was totally uninspiring. Not a platform for which I would consider voting.

It is puzzling that, like the mainstream media, none of the opposition politicians ever mention the secret agenda of the Labour Government. Un-mandated and undemocratic, the government quietly legislates to introduce a system akin to apartheid.

Legislation pushed through Parliament under urgency with little or no opportunity for public consultation to appoint unelected Maori representatives to local bodies.

A divisive new health system that will create separate entities for Maori and what is termed the other population. Apparently giving Maori the right of veto over proposals for the Health entity representing the other population. More expense, more bureaucracy and all during a pandemic!

Similarly, it is proposed that control of the infrastructure essential to managing potable water, stormwater and sewerage will be removed from local councils to four new water management organisations, each comprised of 50% Maori control and 50% for the other populations. This proposal has been rejected by 67 territorial authorities, but although delayed, moves continue.

It is proposed that on the bicentennial anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040, a system of co-governance will be introduced comprising 50% Maori and 50% the other populations. Apartheid. All based upon a Partnership that has been mysteriously discovered hidden in the text of the Treaty.

So Mr Luxon, why do we hear nothing from you and other opposition leaders of these proposals by the Labour Party? Perhaps you support the proposals?

David Stone said...

Doing everything possible to avoid becoming PM at the next election would seem like a sound idea to me. Likely to have administration of a country in a global conflict and or a total financial collapse , oil and petrol unavailable or priced so it might as well be.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I was thinking – I know not the tired old tax cuts again – they'd been shown not to work, they been shown to benefit only the well off, and they've certainly been shown not to produce any more jobs. But then I thought – he knows his base, the greedies, the selfish, those who don't really care about the economy as long as they're small part of it is doing okay. So yes, it will go down very well with a section of New Zealand society. Maybe enough to make him the next prime minister – who knows. Certainly the greedies make the most noise.

Brendan McNeill said...


Luxon appears to lack the necessary philosophical base that would allow him the opportunity to speak with conviction on any of the topics you raise, and more besides. There are some of us of a conservative nature who are more concerned about the draconian Covid emergency powers the Labour Government has given itself, and shows no sign of removing as the pandemic winds down. I’d have thought that was a concern for the Left as well, although they have shown a remarkable willingness to look the other way when its their team trampling on our freedoms.

Many of us are more concerned about the callous disregard for the New Zealand Bill of Rights shown by this government that was instigated somewhat ironically by a former Labour Prime Minister Jeffery Palmer who no doubt had an out of control totalitarian National Party Government in mind when he drafted them. What must he be thinking now?

It ought to be a matter of shame for Luxon given his ill-considered rush to join with Labour and all the other political parties including the Greens, agreeing not to meet with a delegation from the protestors simply to hear their grievances. Even the ineffectual Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, not known for his love of free speech, took time to meet with them.

It is unsurprising therefore that Luxon fails to inspire those who cherish their historical liberties once guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. Tinkering with tax is not even coming close to addressing the deeper issues we face as a nation.

Don Franks said...

Well yes, but the odds of Robertson actually delivering on those two things are long. Labour has done nothing signifigant about climate change and economic inequality has ballooned under this present.

Doug Longmire said...

Response to Graham Wright:-
You have got it in one.
Luxon needs to listen to the 70 - 80% of the public who are totally opposed to an apartheid style divisive government which has been planned in stealth and secrecy.

The Barron said...

"You're advancing the wrong way! Retreat backwards!" - Chief Meanie, Yellow Submarine (1968)

The Barron said...

Councilors from Maori wards are elected.
No Maori veto in Health reform.
No 50% Maori control in 3 Waters proposal.
No bicentennial plan as you describe.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Many of us are somewhat more concerned about a fringe group of people who threaten passers-by, and want to hang MPs – or at least say they do. Tell me Brendan why would anyone want to talk with them? Would you talk with someone who was threatening to kill you? My wife has a heart condition that could easily be exacerbated apparently by catching Covid 19, which these people seem to be intent on spreading to all and sundry. I guess as a member of the extreme right you don't particularly believe in social solidarity or social responsibility, but there are many of us who do.

sumsuch said...

Commenting on the headline, Luxon's speech sounded fresh and simple. Particularly in this time of governmental control. Sir Joseph's 70 million loan promise to win the election in 1929 -- do you think we are beyond that silliness? Have we entered adulthood? Has the human species entered adulthood?!

sumsuch said...

Now have read the article. He may be on the wrong side of history but all the governments since 1980 in the anglosphere democracies have so been. You're suggesting he can't be elected on this?

You and TDB have certainly made a good case why he shouldn't be.

sumsuch said...

Brendan, 'our historic liberties' are nothing without NZ's historic rule of the people, mate.

Why are your people always on the side of the powerful? Put reason, science, proof first and if that produces a god I'm all for it. But that's not the case, why the best your people in America can do is Trump and the overthrow of democracy. You are entirely disproved among the rational. But rational idea-lovers are a decided minority so idiots will have their way in this shortened time-scale, or for you, 'the last days'.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I firmly believe Luxon is a very ambitious individual who is only there to climb the ladder in his game of life. He is John Key Lite and apart from a more placating tone, there will be no changes.

The other 2 factors are: Never interrupt your enemy when they are making a mistake and just before Luxon took over, I saw Simon Bridges on ?? TV? the Working Group?? saying National doesnt have to do much to get the vote back.

I was shocked into paying attention but he explained it as something like 40,000?? or something like that, female voters who are well off who flocked to Labour last election. He said that by the time they got to 2023, they would have seen the mortgage rate rise 3 - 4 percent and then they will stop the virtue signalling (my words not his) and come back to National when their pocket hurts.

I thought it was a really cynical way of looking at things but had to admit, he was probably right. Now things with inflation and the war are changing the fundamentals so whoever wins next is far from certain at this stage.

However I do make the prediction that whichever party gets into power, we will not see transformational change and that the freedoms that we have lost and will soon lose, will not be restored. T

The Barron said...

Sigh, another that does not know Wright from wrong

David George said...

What are the Nats up to?
The tax cuts are simply a correction to the injustice of inflation creep; folk on the median wage being pushed into the top tax rates obviously need sorting out. The proposed changes make little difference to the top earners - just over $1,000 saving for those on $80,000 or $800,000 or more. This was a marking time speech.

Luxon is being deliberately vanilla, so yes Chris, nothing groundbreaking or even particularly interesting. Being, as we are, in the middle of a war, not in Ukraine but right here in our communities and families, in our institutions, in the very basis of our governance I expect the election to be a completely different affair and something we've not seen before in this country: a full blown battle between the liberal/conservatives on one side and wokedom on the other.

David George said...

What form will the battle take? Perhaps the Nat's plan is to ignore the major fracture points right through to the election. I don't think that's possible; their potential coalition partners won't be silent that's for sure, they've already laid their cards on the table over He Puapua, free speech and the various separatist initiatives in local governance, health, education, welfare, local infrastructure and so on. It's set to be an epic battle.

"Political parties can’t choose their policies. Political strategists have been pointing out for some time now that woke ideas like Critical Race Theory and defunding the police are not politically popular and are hamstringing the Democratic Party’s electoral chances. So theoretically they would just drop these things, stop talking about them, change course, and talk about popular things. But of course it’s not that simple. All they can actually do is ride the chaos of the Zeitgeist, because some small portion of their base (maybe some 8% of Americans) are true believers gripped by a religious fervor that transcends political calculation. And this minority is steering the ship, because…

Majorities don’t matter. Unfortunately for those dreaming of harnessing a majority anti-woke popular will, the truth is that, as statistician and philosopher Nassim Taleb has explained in detail, it’s typically not the majority that sets new societal rules, but the most intolerant minority."

Extract above from a very good essay: No, the revolution isn't over. Though it's American orientated it's one that we all should read, I suggest, if we're to get an idea of what will likely unfold for us.

David George said...

BTW, here are the latest (February) Roy Morgan poll results:

Translated into seats in Parliament;
Labour/Greens 54
Nat./ACT 63

Perhaps Luxon can just sail through without ruffling too many feathers, perhaps he has the good fortune to be able to leave the really contentious stuff to ACT and NZF, sort it out after the election maybe.

John Hurley said...

. Both conservatives and revolutionaries have a common interest in constructing a narrative in which the “innocence” of the protesters, and the “guilt” of the Government, is indisputable.

here's what i think is going on

The government would like us to think:
Aotearoa New Zealand is generally regarded as a country with a high level of social cohesion

The Veteran said...

Luxon is playing o his game plan taking from National's songbook and why would't he do that when all recent polls show National is trusted to manage the economy far far better than Labour. It's National's ground. Of course there are many other issues in play like separatism referred to some of your commentators and there He Puapua evidenced in Three Waters and the establishment of a separate Maori Health provider with veto powers over health policy and direction are an albatross that Labour will live to regret with National committed to repeal both should the legislation ever make it through the House.

Bottom line Chris ... look at the polls, look at the polls ... and weep. The worm has turned and your mob is increasingly seen as bereft of cloths and substance.

Shane McDowall said...

New Zealand always has been divided by race. Perhaps Doug Longmire can give us approximate dates when New Zealand was not divided by race. The 1850s? The 1950s? Are yes, these were golden years for race relations in New Zealand

White supremacists like to bleat on about "apartheid" whenever it even looks like Maori are going to get a lick of the ice cream. Race relations are only good when whitey gets his way all the time.

He Pupua is as likely to fly as a Lead Zeppelin.

David George said...

Shane, I suspect that Doug is concerned with the implementation and systemic institutionalisation of ethnicity as a political class. A lot more significant than "getting "a lick of the ice cream" don't you think. This is something entirely new and not to be confused with the relatively minor differences and divisions between groups - which, it needs to be recognised, are far less than the differences within groups.

A recent Curia survey had 72% of the population convinced we are more divided against 10% less divided and the balance unchanged or were uncertain. Good luck expecting the people to be happy about increased and institutionalised division at the next election.

Geoff said...

If Luxon lets Labour manoeuvre him into the role of J.H. Blair, then he can kiss good-bye his chances of becoming Prime Minister.

To have a fighting chance, he’ll need a lot more than tax cuts.

By the look of the last two polls Chris he may not.