Simon Bridges' retirement from politics opens up a vacancy in the finance portfolio, one of the most sought-after gigs in Parliament.
In times past, the departure of a senior MP from a senior portfolio could prove a massive headache for a leader, but Bridges' exit is helpful to Luxon in two key areas: it frees up a juicy portfolio to sinecure ambitious MPs, and it removes the head of one of National's many factions, meaning Luxon does not have to use it to heal wounds between one faction and another (this is probably less important now, as recent polling means the rifts between factions are not nearly as wide as they once were).
The finance portfolio can be used like a second deputy leadership, meaning the leader can both reward their friends and allies, whilst giving a potential rival a portfolio exciting enough it acts as an incentive to remain loyal.
Bridges himself had ally (and onetime rival) Paula Bennett as deputy leader and leadership rival Amy Adams as finance spokeswoman. Likewise Luxon had leadership rival Bridges as finance, while putting ally Nicola Willis as deputy.
Jacinda Ardern has Kelvin Davis as deputy leader, representing the Māori caucus in the party leadership, whilst giving finance (and now Deputy Prime Minister) to ally Grant Robertson.
Luxon is fortunate in that his only real rival for the leadership was Bridges himself. Former leaders Judith Collins and Todd Muller aren't about to mount a bid to roll Luxon, and there's no chance Bridges' former supporters will unify behind a new leader to have a go at the leadership.
Luxon has said he has "a few options" for the next finance spokesperson, with details coming tomorrow.
"I've got a pretty clear plan in my head as to who will do that role, but I will announce that tomorrow," Luxon said.
With that in mind, there are only a handful of candidates.
Pros: National's number 4, Chris Bishop very briefly went public with a desire to put his hat in the ring for leader last year, before quickly putting his support behind Luxon. He's the current favourite for the job. Bishop has the requisite experience in political finance roles. An MP since 2014, Bishop chaired Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee while National was in government, giving him familiarity with the political-financial calendar.
Though the public will most likely remember him for his Covid-19 response role, he cut his teeth as opposition police and transport spokesman. Bishop led relentless attacks on the Government's elevation of Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha, the Auckland light rail project, and the beleaguered Let's Get Wellington Moving transport plan.
Pertinent to the Covid gig - he also put together the party's 2020 transport policy, which was heavy on the fiscals, promising a new borrowing facility for Waka Kotahi and a shift away from traditional transport funding methods - the kind of stuff you might expect Luxon to be keen on.
Importantly, given National's recent troubles, Bishop has an eye for detail. A lawyer by training, he helps National list MPs draft Members' Bills, and has had good success in the Covid-19 portfolio.
Shifting Bishop would also solve a problem for Luxon. The Covid portfolio is winding down in significance, which means Luxon would need to find another meaty portfolio to keep Bishop busy. He can't easily put Bishop back into Transport, a portfolio Bishop enjoyed, because it belongs to up and comer, Simeon Brown who is handling it rather well.
Cons: Bishop is a leader of National's liberal faction, along with Willis.
Previously, Luxon's kitchen Cabinet of Willis, Bridges, and Bishop was evenly split between conservatives and liberals if you include Luxon himself. Putting Bishop in finance would distort that balance, especially as Luxon has himself experienced a liberal drift since becoming leader, switching his previously conservative votes on abortion safe areas and gay conversion therapy to back the liberal position. Bishop has corporate experience - always a plus in the National Party - the only problem is that this experience was at a tobacco company.
Bishop is also somewhat tainted by his association with the Todd Muller coup, of which he was a key architect. It's probably fair to say those wounds have healed markedly as time moves on and National's polling improves, but they certainly leave a scar.
Pros: Irony of ironies, the candidate most likely to pip Bishop for the job is one of his best friends, Nicola Willis. Willis might have become a journalist, but she was hired by Bill English to become a researcher while National was in opposition during the Clark Labour government. Willis stuck around for the party's years in opposition, and was eventually promoted to John Key's office. She briefly left politics to earn her corporate stripes at dairy giant Fonterra. She had a good stint on the Finance and Expenditure Committee too. As housing spokeswoman, she helped to detoxify housing for National to the point where a recent Ipsos poll had National ahead of Labour when it comes to the party most backed to address the housing crisis.
Cons: Willis could easily do the finance job, but it's not clear what Luxon would gain from giving it to her. National has previously given the finance and deputy job to one person (Bill English under Key's leadership), but Luxon at this point might be advised to cast his sinecures more widely. Willis' cons are much the same as Bishop's: both are liberals, and both are from Wellington. National is currently performing well in Auckland, but it needs to make sure it continues to be well represented there to win.
Blasts from the past:
National's years in the wilderness means it has no shortage of people with experience in the finance role who Luxon might tap for the role, although this remains unlikely.
Pros: Goldsmith was a popular finance spokesman under three leaders: Bridges, Muller, and Collins. A close friend of Bridges, his appointment or elevation would signal Luxon takes seriously the importance of keeping what's left of the Bridges faction happy. Goldsmith performed well during the Covid pandemic; his speeches on the Government's economic relief for businesses were well received for being less oppositional than speeches made by Bridges on the overall Covid response. That might play well with Luxon who would like National to be "propositional" as well as "oppositional".
Cons: Unfortunately for Goldsmith, he's unlikely to live down the dramas of 2020's fiscal holes to the extent that he could take the finance portfolio again.
Pros: Served as shadow Treasurer under Judith Collins, and was a competent pair of hands.
Cons: Never really landed a blow against the Government. Better suited in a less political, more wonkish roll.
Pros: Collins' former finance spokesman, sharing the dual portfolio with Bayly. Far more political than Bayly, with an eye for an issue. Would bring some much-needed South Island representation into the top 5.
Cons: Was given a fairly hefty demotion by Luxon during his first list ranking, a wound which probably has not healed yet. Not clear what problem would be solved by appointing him.
For more from Thomas Coughlan, follow the NZ Herald's politics podcast, On the Tiles. New episodes out Friday