Yesterdaze: The Taming of the Guinea Pig

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Chris Luxon might have a hard reset strategy for his party’s dysfunction ready to go, but he hasn’t quite figured out the nuances of the media spotlight. James Elliott on the new star of the National Party. 

Welcome to life under the traffic lights. This is the reset. A hard reset. We’re turning the page on the alert level system. We’re drawing a line under the last couple of years of Covid and putting them behind us. If that description sounds familiar you must have been listening to the same interviews with new National Party leader Christopher Luxon that I was.

The National Party had their reset on Tuesday. It was a hard reset. They’ve turned the page. They’re drawing a line under the last four “completely dysfunctional” years and putting those last four completely dysfunctional years behind them. And to underscore just how hard that reset was, the first question at their press conference went to Jessica not Tova.      

I would have advised Chris Luxon – the media have already turned the page on Christopher – not to specify the exact number of completely dysfunctional years that you’re putting behind you, ie. four, because that’s quite a few years and quite a lot of dysfunction. It makes you wonder whose leadership was responsible for those four years of dysfunction. If you count back four years from Tuesday you’ll find that the four years of dysfunction within the National Party must have started under Bill English, although most of the heavy lifting was done by Simon Bridges and Judith Collins with a brief cameo by Todd Muller.

We can forgive Chris – I’ve turned the page on Chris Luxon – the occasional slip because he’s new to the nuances of the political press conference and the forensic dissection of every phrase. So let’s draw a line under the four dysfunctional years and look at how he fared under direct questions in real time.

If you can’t picture Chris feeding a custard square to a guinea pig to the tune of ‘Two Steppin’ Mind’ then you’re not tryin’ hard enough.

What I would say to you about that is that Chris starts an answer to a question with the phrase “What I would say to you about that” an awful lot. It’s a filler phrase that buys you a few seconds to think about your substantive answer. It’s a shame he didn’t use that technique when answering the first of Lisa Owen’s quickfire questions on Checkpoint on Tuesday afternoon – “What’s your favourite animal?”. Chris answered with “guinea pig”. What I would say to you about that is that if the guinea pig is truly your favourite animal then I have supplementary questions. Lisa didn’t, she went with “How many times have you lied today?” Chris said none whereas I would have advised him to say “I’ve lied once today. The guinea pig is not my favourite animal.”  

Come Wednesday morning, Chris and deputy Nicola Willis were primed for a press probing by Newshub’s Jenna Lynch. Asked to name one thing the public didn’t know about them Chris confessed that he likes custard squares. Nicola confessed that she had turned off the mains power when at primary school. I had no supplementary questions about those answers.

Chris’ other significant confession across a range of interviews was that he likes country music in general, and Tim McGraw in particular. So if you can’t picture Chris feeding a custard square to a guinea pig to the tune of ‘Two Steppin’ Mind’ then you’re not tryin’ hard enough. If you can picture it then good luck trying to turn the page on that.

Chris announced that he would be announcing the new National line-up on Sunday and in the meantime he’d continue criticising the Government for making announcements about announcements.

In fact Chris went further than confessing he likes country music, he apologised for it. He needn’t have. Country music is more than just music, it’s a creed to live by. No doubt he was channelling Tim McGraw’s ‘I Keep It Under My Hat’ when he was asked on Wednesday about the make-up of National’s new shadow Cabinet. Chris announced that he would be announcing the new National line-up on Sunday and in the meantime he’d continue criticising the Government for making announcements about announcements.

However, on Thursday he did a hard reset of that announced announcement by announcing Simon Bridges as National’s new finance and infrastructure spokesperson ahead of the announced Sunday announcement. And so far there’s been no announcement as to whether Judith Collins’ new role will also be announced before Sunday’s announced announcement.

It’s also unclear whether Sunday’s announced announcement will be before or after Chris goes water-skiing with Ryan (no relation) Bridges and Mark Richardson from the AM Show. Their Wednesday morning interview is worth watching if only for the delightfully awkward silence after Mark asked whether Chris might have a job for him. It’s also worth watching to compare Chris’ answers with answers to the same questions posed later that same morning by Mike Hosking.

When asked on the AM Show whether iwi roadblocks in Northland should be allowed to go ahead, Chris said that the situation should be monitored but allowed to play out. When asked a short while later by Mike Hosking whether iwi roadblocks in Northland were acceptable, Chris did a reset saying they were “really not acceptable”. When asked on the AM Show whether there should be general arming of the police, Chris said it was a decision for the police to make. When asked the same question by Mike Hosking a few minutes later he turned the page saying he was open to it.    

What I would say to you about that is that Tuesday probably wasn’t the end of National’s resetting, line-drawing and page turning.                

Have a peaceful weekend.

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