The National Party campaign launch, held at the Due Drop Events Centre on Sunday afternoon, might have been picketed early on by the Freedoms New Zealand party, but that soon fell away to a blue dominated show. The party has attracted more than seven times the amount of campaign donations to Labour since the start of 2021, and when compared to the red team’s offering yesterday, it seemed evident. National’s campaign launch was, from a production standpoint, a slicker affair. It was better choreographed, but it also had a distinctly North American flavour.
In an arena setting, the launch was evocative of an American-style rally – but instead of Kamala Harris emerging from the side doors, it was deputy leader Nicola Willis. Willis initially had the party faithful in the palm of her hand but soon lost the energy with a speech that was too long and at times poorly executed. Willis fumbled opportunities of timing her speech to rark up the troops for the main event – Luxon.
A dedicated and conscientious swot, Willis is capable of more and no doubt hopes for a chance for more practice – with the possibility of a plaque with “finance minister” written on it dangling just in sight. She was followed by Luxon’s adult children William and Olivia, who, in US-Canadian-Kiwi accents, told a clearer, better story about who their father was than the man himself seems to have managed in one and a half years as leader.
They warmly spoke of their dad as the kind of guy who would take forever at a petrol station because he was hearing the attendants’ “life story”. The choice of using a candidates children is one often seen in US presidential-style rallies. Luxon was later asked if this was his choice – he didn’t answer it directly but said it was a decision he supported and which felt appropriate given the event fell on Father’s Day.
The junior Luxon’s off the stage, the arena appeared to segue into a mix between an NBA player draft and a heavyweight boxing match, with all of National’s candidates emerging from the edges of the arena, one at a time, with flashing lights and grinding bassline music, to form a guard of honour for the main man Luxon. The crowd appeared to love it, with special hoots for Auckland-based candidates who of course had a home-crowd advantage.
The whole orchestration gave Luxon’s entrance the momentum and energy that told a story – this is a prime-minister-in-waiting. A story, of course Luxon and National hope will come true. While some pundits sometimes speculate that Willis is the underlying talent (in this she has the distinct advantage of simply more hours logged at Parliament, having been elected in 2018) behind the National leadership team, today Luxon was well and truly the main event and finally outshone her.
Arriving onstage to Royal Deluxe’s Day is Gonna Come, Luxon had the room’s attention. All heads appeared turned to Luxon, and his speech was on message, but not robotic, and just the right length. Luxon also later wouldn’t be drawn on whether some of the apparently North American influences of the launch came from him, given his almost-decade lived in the US and Canada while working for Unilever.
Bizarrely National appeared to squander the energy and attention of its campaign launch by announcing virtually nothing except – a “pledge” of things they wanted to do. It’s essentially a list of its campaign messaging (“Lower inflation and grow the economy, let you keep more of what you earn, restore law and order…”).
It’s true National has released a deluge of policy in the lead up to today, but there was no clear reason to waste today’s spotlight. A policy announcement can stay in a news cycle longer than 12 hours. A wishlist does not. It was an unusual misstep in an otherwise deftly-delivered campaign launch.
Poor old Chris Hipkins had four interruptions during his speech at Labour’s campaign launch yesterday, and while he said he was undeterred by the coordinated interruption, it would siphon anyone’s energy. But that’s something that was, by comparison to National, in short supply.