Christopher Luxon’s aim at the National Party’s campaign launch was not to offer up treats for voters, but rather to convince voters he was primed and ready to become Prime Minister.
The National Party campaign launch on Sunday was a very different affair to the Labour launch the day before at the Aotea Centre, and not only because National managed to avoid having Freedoms NZ hecklers sneak into their audience.
It was a different experience watching National’s launch on-screen to being there in person. It was very slickly produced and clearly produced to look and sound good on television. Those who watched it on screen said it did indeed look and sound high-energy.
From the back of the theatre, however, it seemed surprisingly subdued and low on energy.
That could have been down to the venue – a large theatre which National did not manage to fill, or to the differences in the party base: Labour’s supporters chant and whoop, while National’s are more prone to polite clapping and save the whoops for special occasions.
While Labour’s hype was created by live performances on stage and the chanting and cheering of the party members, National’s hype was more manufactured, achieved through dramatic videos, lighting and loud music (Royal Deluxe’s Day is Gonna Come played as Luxon walked to the stage through a guard of honour formed by his candidates).
That song might explain why Luxon opted against announcing a new policy at the campaign launch.
Instead, he clearly decided he wanted the focus to be on showing himself as the Prime Minister in charge of a future National government. That was the obvious aim of the pledge card he released, setting out what his eight priorities would be as Prime Minister. It was the obvious aim of having his children, William and Olivia, make their debut on a National Party stage to speak about his values.
It was also the obvious aim of his speech, which was well-structured and drove home National’s key campaign messages. They were not new messages: Luxon set out his well-trodden litany of the failings of the Labour Government and promised things would be better under National, referencing anecdotes from farmers and small business owners to first-home buyers. He paid particular attention to his own area of passion - education.
A pledge card is a perfectly valid way to launch a campaign - former PM Helen Clark also launched her campaign in 2002 with a pledge card.
A pledge card can also be a good way of showing you are willing to be held accountable, as said pledges set out markers to be held to account on.
Luxon’s version was more of a marketing device than a statement of vision, effectively bullet points of the main policies he has announced so far and the promise he will implement them.
However, the lack of new policy meant afterwards, Luxon found himself being interrogated again about National’s costings of its tax policy. In particular, whether the proposal to tax foreign buyers will fall foul of international tax treaties and free trade agreements.
All Luxon could offer to counter claims by experts that the tax will breach those was that National was “rock solid” in its own reckons on the matter. That will not be good enough for long.
However, both Luxon and Hipkins can head out on to the campaign trail proper today knowing they have done their job in delivering on the purpose of their respective launches: giving hope to the faithful and showing voters they are hungry to win and will fight for it.
Hipkins had to show his supporters he was not tired, he was not giving up and would not make it easy for National. Luxon had to show his supporters he was ready to be Prime Minister - and could be.
National walked out of theirs thinking they would win, but clearly wary it could slip away.
Labour walked out of theirs thinking they might be able to win after all.
The National Party base are clearly not the only ones who think Luxon is indeed in with a good chance of being the PM after October 14.
Today, the Council of Trade Unions started an advertising campaign targeted squarely at discrediting Luxon - including an image of Luxon with an eerie likeness to Mussolini.
Welcome to the campaign.
Claire Trevett is the NZ Herald’s political editor, based at Parliament in Wellington. She started at the NZ Herald in 2003 and joined the press gallery team in 2007. She is a life member of the Parliamentary press gallery.