At the end of the meeting, they mobbed him. Crowded round with beaming faces to shake his hand, pose for the photo, touch his sleeve. The good folk of the National Party, Botany branch, with their new hero: Chris Luxon.
Formerly known, everywhere and always, as Christopher. He is shortening his name, we are told, because voters like one-syllable names more. Here's another politician determined to heed the will of the people.
Chris Luxon, former chief executive of Air New Zealand, stood among his adoring fans on Monday night at the Pakuranga Golf Club, trimly buttoned into his blue suit, head gleaming, with a smile that's almost but not quite a grin, and he drank it all in. He'd given a very polished speech. Lively and articulate but also measured, somehow he managed to project personal calm and a sense of urgency because, as we know, we are now in a time of crisis.
He was charming and confident but not cocky and he hoped that along the journey they'd all be able to "have some fun". Where all four of the other candidates attempted to smother the crowd with earnestness, that reference to fun was a clever touch.
For someone right at the start of their political career, I don't think I've seen a more assured performance. John Key and Jacinda Ardern weren't like this, not to begin with.
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By the way, in case you're feeling anxious, the "crisis" that informed his speech is not climate change or the international corruption of democracy or war in the Middle East or even some impending collapse of the global financial system. Nothing like that. The crisis we face, apparently, is having a Labour-led Government.
Perspective does go out the window when politicians are working up the passions of their supporters.
Twitter started up: the beginning of the end for Simon Bridges; Luxon will be leader at the next election, etc.
Just to be clear about that: there is no mechanism for Chris Luxon to enter Parliament before the 2020 general election, except if someone were to kidnap the renegade sitting MP Jami-Lee Ross, put him in a canister and fire him into space. Well, Rocket Lab does have a large warehouse in nearby Mt Wellington.
National is thrilled to have hooked such a big fish and also anxious his personal ambition doesn't tip the boat and drown them all. Because Chris exudes something Bridges has never managed: being the boss makes him comfortable.
He was good. He fielded questions from the media pack without an "um" or an "ah" or any kind of misspokenness. Paula Bennett stood at his elbow beaming super confidently and you couldn't even tell if she was holding a cattle prod. They were both very good.
The National Party operates a knockout system of voting: you have to win more than 50 per cent of the votes and if no one does that in the first round, the lowest-polling candidate drops out and they vote again. Quite often, it can go for several rounds. Chris won on the first round.
What does he stand for? What does he want to do? Comparisons with John Key are rife, but most of them miss something pretty important. Key didn't really care about "conscience issues", but if pushed he tended to the liberal.
Luxon is an evangelical Christian who is guided by his faith. "My faith gives me my mission and purpose," he said. It will motivate him to "deliver for the people".
Key never talked like that.
Luxon told us he would, if he got the chance, vote against all three of the social issues now under debate: right-to-die reform, drug reform and abortion-law reform.
It's kind of odd, because Air New Zealand has a more liberal profile: it is, for example, proud of its rainbow-inclusive reputation. Luxon must know his former company far more accurately represents this country than his religious beliefs do.
Although perhaps he gets his own way where he can. Air New Zealand has not run special rainbow flights to the Sydney Mardi Gras for many years, but now Luxon has gone those flights are back on. Take from that what you will.
In this regard, Luxon seems less like John Key 2.0 than the second coming of Bill English. The thing about English, though, is that when he was prime minister he stuffed his conservative social convictions in his back pocket and left them there. Marriage equality? Why make a fuss?
At this point, Luxon looks like he has the personality to become party leader. The real question is what he will do if he rises so high. He told the media on Monday, "I believe John Key is the greatest prime minister we have ever had." But he also expressed impatience at the lack of Government progress today. He said, several times, "We have to get things done."
Those two statements do not make sense together. Key created a strong culture of business confidence, but he didn't get very much done. We're in the mess we're in because of years of market failure and government inaction – on transport, healthcare, housing, welfare, regional development, you name it. Key's Government balanced the books by creating a yawning gulf of social and infrastructural need.
Would Luxon be satisfied leaving all that to the market? Or does he believe in governments taking a more interventionist approach – an approach that has greatly benefited Air New Zealand itself? Pressed on Monday night, he said he has "no policy ambitions".
But here's a clue. Simon Bridges already has National tacking to the right, and Luxon had no trouble this week supporting the proposal to stop benefits for parents who don't get their children immunised. He went further on RNZ, agreeing that should extend to Working for Families recipients, but perhaps he assumed that was already party policy. \
It's an illuminating issue. As my colleague Kirsty Johnston has reported, anti-vaxxers are not the main reason New Zealand's immunisation rates are too low. That distinction belongs to the health authorities who have not committed enough resources to the task.
Why haven't they? Two reasons: underfunding and a belief among some of those authorities that it doesn't matter.
Think that through. National wants beneficiary parents to be blamed and their children punished for a problem they did not create. A problem largely created under that same party when it was in government. Luxon is good with this.
As social policy it's not just lazy. It points to an insidious political purpose: it's better to stoke prejudice about people on benefits than to address the real causes of social problems. Better to scapegoat the vulnerable than fix the problem.
Christopher Luxon is welcome to his moral conservatism. But morality uncoupled from compassion is unpleasant and, when it leads to immoral policymaking, it's disgraceful. If your faith gives you your mission, don't you have to stand up to that?
APOLOGY: In a recent article I noted that Matt McCarten, adviser to Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere, had been responsible for a Labour Party work scheme embroiled in scandal. I suggested that scandal involved claims of sexual harassment, which is not true, and I apologise.