Former neighbours, ACT’s David Seymour and new National Party leader Chris Luxon each say they don’t see a need to compete with one another for votes, Marc Daalder reports
Analysis: ACT Party leader David Seymour and new National Party leader Chris Luxon used to be next-door neighbours – “I was number four and he was number six,” Seymour told Newsroom.
Now, they find themselves political neighbours, with the two hoping to be able to form a government together come 2023 – assuming Luxon is still in the captain’s seat by then.
“He’s now the sixth National leader I’ve worked with,” Seymour noted.
Although Luxon is promising a less shambolic National, Seymour doesn’t see that as a threat to ACT’s support in the polls.
In his first speech as the new leader of the National Party, Luxon directly addressed the voters who left National for Labour, ACT and other parties at the 2020 election.
“My message to you is: from today, National is back,” he said.
But Seymour says a strong National Party doesn’t have to mean a weak ACT.
“The end goal is to make sure that we have more votes than the other side,” he told Newsroom. “That’s all there is to it. We’re not really focused on our competitors, we’re focused on our customers.”
The numbers were already trending in the direction of National and ACT, Seymour said, though the latest polls show was more a result of Labour bleeding support and ACT doubling its own than any work from National.
“I think there was potentially going to be a problem where people were hesitant at the last minute to see Judith Collins as Prime Minister. You’d have to hope that people would have less hesitation about the new guy, but that remains to be seen.”
Overall, Seymour said Luxon assuming leadership of National didn’t change ACT’s plans or priorities.
“I know everyone expects it to make a big difference. People told me when Judith Collins became the National leader that it would be the end of ACT and we’d lose all our votes and all the rest. Well, you know, look how that went.”
Prior to 2020, National was seen as the big tent party of the right, while ACT picked up a more niche constituency. But National’s tent collapsed in 2020 and ACT’s, according to the latest polls, is now more than half the size of National’s.
Some of this will have been a reflection of ACT’s – really, Seymour’s – reputation as a smooth operator, in contrast to the chaos from National. There’s a common joke in the Press Gallery that many National press releases are just copies of earlier ACT statements, with the smaller party having been faster to fire off comment on an issue.
But even if National picks up its standards and puts more original ideas out there, ACT still has a number of points of difference.
Housing is one, with National likely to maintain its support for the bipartisan housing accord agreed to under Collins. One of the masterminds behind the accord, Nicola Willis, is Luxon’s deputy. ACT, meanwhile, has campaigned against the policies and called on National to rescind its support.
Seymour has also staked out different positions on Covid-19 (pushing for fewer restrictions than National), foreign affairs (criticising Chinese influence in New Zealand) and a range of social issues. While the two parties have tended to agree on climate policy while Collins led National, former Air New Zealand boss Luxon could take the party in a greener direction there too.
Seymour is quick to point out that he isn’t just winning votes from National supporters.
“We’re getting voters in equal measure from Labour and National. What that tells me is that people are coming to ACT because ACT has something to offer them, rather than because of National. If ACT’s getting votes because National’s weak, why on earth are we getting them from Labour?”
When asked on Checkpoint whether ACT was a friend or foe, Luxon was quick to say “friend”. But he dodged a question at his first press conference over where the two parties needed to cooperate versus where they need to compete.
“The major focus we have to focus on is making sure that the National Party is very clear to everybody about what we’re standing for and what we’re going to get going with,” he said.
The two may have been amicable neighbours in Auckland – but will that last in Wellington?