National MPs would be doing a great disservice to the party, at the least, if they allow themselves to be swayed by Sir John Key’s choice, instead of making up their own mind on who would get their vote as the new leader.
On the one hand, they risk exposing themselves to New Zealanders as undeserving of being the real leader of the people – a bare minimum expectation from a Member of Parliament.
Indeed, such a revelation is less likely to improve the party’s falling stock anytime soon.
Simultaneously, on the other hand, they will be accentuating the perception that the party has neither the capability nor the intent to grow up and move beyond Key influence.
The country has moved on from the Key-English era, and so has the nature of challenges appearing in front of the country, and National MPs would be fooling themselves if they are hoping to get a free pass on the reputation of those glory days and get back to power.
In that regard the job of working toward regaining power begins from today, and not from Tuesday, when they get another new leader (they have four leaders anyway in the last five years after Sir John relinquished the position) – because it is the collective flock of MPs that generates confidence, or otherwise, among the voters.
Charismatic leaders can often singlehandedly change the public perception, but usually, that happens only when the runway to the next elections is short and minimal, and any sudden spurt in popularity can be sustained till the election night.
Otherwise, it requires the entire team of MPs to generate enough confidence among prospective voters and in the alternative vision that they propose for the future direction of the country – of course, under a talented, likable leader – who complements the talent in the team.
It is in this regard that National MPs need to see themselves in better light, with an added responsibility towards the country and the party, and not publicly appear gullible to influence cast on them either directly - through a phone call by a former party stalwart or tactically, by media-leaks stating where a party stalwart’s support rests.
New Zealanders are anyway going through an emotional rollercoaster amidst a once in a hundred-year pandemic and public health crisis and are likely to resent profusely than admire such gullibility of National MPs.
To be clear, it is completely fair to seek counsel and reach out to party greats or political mentors from time to time at a crucial juncture; however, that should largely be in private and not in full public glare.
Sir John’s support for Luxon appears problematic on two grounds.
Firstly, it makes Luxon’s own position precarious – a greenhorn who is dependent on a former party stalwart to sway his fellow caucus members’ opinion about his claim on leadership – how can he be entrusted with the responsibility of convincing New Zealanders’ opinion about the National Party.
Clearly, National Party needs today a leader who backs himself unabashedly and is not dependent on a former Leader to sway others’ opinions about him.
Secondly, it sheepishly exposes that the party has not been able to fill the void left after Sir John’s voluntary retirement from politics – a clear sign that the party has a poor supply of new talent, thinking, and vision.
In an ideal world, Sir John’s open advocacy for Luxon, including making a phone call to MPs, should rather irk some bold, courageous, outright independent, and ambitious MPs within the National caucus.
However, that may or may not be the case in the real world.
If that’s not the case, then it only reveals the shambolic state of affairs within the National Party.
There is an urgent need for the party - especially from the MPs, who have the biggest responsibility and opportunity to build a new image and reputation for the party among the prospective voters – and move beyond the Key-English era.