Chris Luxon and Nicola Willis certainly appeared a united front on their first public outing on Tuesday. But with three former leaders and a bunch of Team Bridges’ MPs sat in the caucus, there are plenty of cracks still to be plastered over, writes political editor Jo Moir.

ANALYSIS: The former chief executive of Air New Zealand has long been tipped to take over the leadership of the National Party, but even he would have been hoping he had just a little more time.

And there are many reasons why – not least now being at the helm of a party that has three former leaders in it and no real clue as to how they’ll react to their new boss.

He’s promising “very important roles’’ for Judith Collins, Simon Bridges and Todd Muller but also swears no decisions have been made and responsibilities will be sorted in coming days.

To believe that, it would have to be believed Bridges didn’t ask for anything in exchange for his withdrawing from the race at the 11th hour.

As for Collins, she’s publicly backing Luxon, which is hardly surprising given her attempt to take Bridges down with her when she set off the National Party nukes.

Bridges withdrawing from the race took away Collins’ power on that front – he will consider it a bonus that he managed to screw her leverage on his way out.

Luxon has returned that show of support by saying he “absolutely’’ wants Collins in the caucus.

While he doesn’t owe Collins a plum position, not giving her one might prompt her to make life difficult.

Collins and her supporters’ votes weren’t needed by Luxon because a contest never took place.

Bridges withdrawing from the race took away Collins’ power on that front – he will consider it a bonus that he managed to screw her leverage on his way out.

If Collins did decide to make trouble for Luxon she’d only be doing exactly what Bridges did to her during her difficult tenure.

Judith Collins publicly backed Chris Luxon for the top job, and messaged in support of him and deputy Nicola Willis after they were announced the new leadership team. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

As for Muller – he’ll have his own thinking to do.

There’s nothing to stop him deciding to stay on and contest his Bay of Plenty seat at the 2023 election.

Former senior MP Amy Adams set a precedent for it when she did a U-turn on her retirement plans when Muller rolled Bridges, only to re-retire once Muller quit the leadership.

One thing in Luxon’s favour is that he hasn’t been in Parliament long enough to make any real enemies.

That makes things easier when it comes to drawing up a frontbench and assigning portfolios.

Luxon says the party is turning the page – but thinking that and doing it are very different things.

He’s coming into the job viewing it as not too dissimilar to being CEO of a company.

He says it’s about selecting a “high-performance team’’ and is clear he and his deputy will have different positions on things, like abortion – pointing out that’s representative of the different views in the party.

“I’m pro-life and Nicola would be pro-choice,’’ Luxon told RNZ.

He sees his former life as a CEO in the commercial world as being about defining and solving problems and leading a team of people to get the best results.

That means he intends to set high performance standards and has already ruled caucus disloyalty is a sacking offence.

As far as ‘man of the people’ vibes go, it was right up there with hanging out in the Koru club to gauge the mood of the nation.

To achieve all this Luxon will need to wipe the slate clean and start again, given there’s plenty of MPs with a track record of leaking in the caucus, some of whom Luxon and Willis will be aware of.

With the team already diminished to 33 MPs, there’s hardly room to expel any for past behaviours.

There’s also a certain amount of moving on that will need to happen, and quickly.

Willis has always had leadership potential – it started before she entered Parliament after being branded a protégé and favourite of Sir John Key’s.

But when she tied her fortunes to Muller last year – helping to roll Bridges and divide the caucus – her favour amongst her colleagues took a hit.

Nicola Willis was part of Team Muller, who rolled Simon Bridges last year. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

Willis has worked hard in her portfolios since and has put her head down but there will still be those in the caucus who resent her part in the Muller coup, which some see as the beginning of the end of National’s chances at the last election.

The deputy role is traditionally one charged with bringing the caucus together and sorting out any internal rifts – a difficult position to fill if some see you as part of the problem.

Luxon will hope he’s right when he says everyone in the party has agreed it’s time to move on, stop leaking and back-stabbing, and look ahead to the next election.

There will be plenty of policy and positions to revisit with the new leadership duo and some difficult decisions to make given there will be plenty of areas the socially conservative Luxon and liberal Willis disagree on.

All of that will need to be done in the next few weeks so the party has a clear path ahead when Parliament resumes at the start of next year.

Much of what would have been a summer of barbecues and catching up with family will need to be spent nutting out the direction of the party and how the leadership team is going to keep the various factions within it happy.

There’s also the wider question of the board and its president, Peter Goodfellow, and whether it may also need some adjustments.

Luxon hit a positive tone in his first press conference and subsequent interviews on Tuesday, and Willis stood back and kept the focus firmly on him.

She has the political smarts to know when she needs to step in and help, which certainly wasn’t the case on his first day as leader.

The only advice he could have done with was before he officially had the job, when he made the decision to get a black Mercedes to chauffeur him to Parliament from his apartment building directly across the road.

As far as ‘man of the people’ vibes go, it was right up there with hanging out in the Koru club to gauge the mood of the nation.

It was off-key, but by no means disastrous, and if he can find a solid strategy and communications team to help him in the Opposition leader’s office it will be the first and last time he makes that sort of mistake.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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