Christopher Luxon has done his best to diversify his caucus – it won’t be enough. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National leader Christopher Luxon finally got to stamp his mark on the National Party, unveiling the party’s list for the 2023 election.
Luxon has previously vented his frustration at wanting more women in caucus,
and wanting greater ethnic diversity. His challenge today was to unveil a list of candidates who look like they do the shopping more than once a month (just to help out their wives).
On a more serious note, he needed to unveil a caucus that looks like it will stand behind his pledge not to alter New Zealand’s abortion laws – a weak point for Luxon personally, that Labour has ruthlessly exploited and is likely to exploit on the campaign.
On these issues, Luxon was hamstrung by the party he inherited, which had three issues: that it did not take diversity seriously enough at a central level, leading to an undiverse list; that its members do not take diversity seriously enough, leading to undiverse candidates in winnable electorates; and that the party was annihilated by Jacinda Ardern in 2020, which compounded the first two problems.
The last of these problems has gone, the second, Luxon has been unable to control (more on that later), but today he has done his best to address the first.
Twenty-one of his top 40 candidates are women. The top 40 also includes ethnic diversity, and the first two candidates to run for National in the Māori electorates since 2002 (sitting MP Harete Hipango and newcomer Hinurewa te Hau – neither will win their electorate, making list ranking crucial).
List ranking is officially a horizontal process, with input from delegates from across the party.
In practice, ranking is the prerogative of the leader.
Luxon has had the tough task of dragging a reluctant party kicking and screaming into the future. His position, which has looked weak at moments this term, is strong enough that he’s been able to do this, making some tough calls to dump senior and well-liked MPs (well-liked by some – every MP has people who don’t like them) down the list in favour of newcomers.
It helps of course, that the Luxon’s deputy Nicola Willis takes this sort of stuff seriously too. The deputy is on the list ranking committee with the leader, board, and delegates, and Willis’ fingerprints are all over the list.
National has been a laggard on gender diversity. Labour has forged ahead, compensating for National, to improve the gender diversity of Parliament, which for the first time ever has a majority of women.
National’s diversity problem can be overstated. But it’s inarguable that the party has not acquitted itself well in recent times, falling over itself on issues like abortion.
Women voters, meanwhile, who backed the party during the Key years, have not returned under Luxon, according to recent polling.
Luxon has probably done as much as he can, but it will not be enough for him to return a 50:50 caucus. National’s membership did not heed his desires for greater diversity. And its famously independent local selections have favoured men in winnable seats.
Many of these candidates will win their seats, taking up a position occupied by someone higher up the list.
On current polling, the party stands to bring in a caucus in the mid 40s. The uneven gender split in National’s winnable electorates, means that a lot of Luxon’s work in diversifying his top 40 will be undone by a handful of electorate seats that are likely to go blue.
These sorts of things are impossible to forecast, but if National gets about 45 seats with the list dropping down to Rosemary Bourke (32), the gender split of the caucus will be 65:35 in favour of men. That’s only a slight improvement on the 68:32 split currently.
Luxon has made the right call of ranking people in winnable or flippable electorates low. A signal to those MPs to win the seat or else, and not rely on the re-entering Parliament through the back door.
At 60 on the list and below, are a list of candidates in electorates that National stands a real chance of winning back from Labour this election. The message to these candidates is obvious: flip the seat or it’s nothing.
Former MP dan Bidois (60 – Northcote), as well as Mike Butterick (61 – Wairarapa ), Cameron Brewer (62 Upper Harbour), Hamish Campbell (63 – Ilam), Tim Costley (64 – Otaki), Greg Fleming (65 – Maunakiekie), Ryan Hamilton (66 – Hamilton East), David MacLeod (67 – New Plymouth), Grant Mccallum (68 – Northland), James Meager (69 – Rangitata).
All are certainly winnable, but all are held by men who, if the seats flip, will explode the gender diversity at the top of the list.
Luxon’s ruthless use of the list shows he has command of the caucus and parts of the party he controls, but he is still a long way from the likes of John Key who were able to exert control on the wider parts of the party too.
It’s his inability to exert that kind of control over selections earlier this year that will undermine his efforts today. If he wins the election in October, he might stand a better shot at doing this next election. If he doesn’t, that task will fall to the next leader – she won’t be mucking around.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.