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August 14, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Labour Leadership

Andrew Little resigned as Labour leader on August 1 after poll results published in July showed that support for his party had fallen, and that he had lower “preferred Prime Minister” ratings than his deputy, Mount Albert MP Jacinda Ardern.  

At a caucus meeting the same day, Little nominated Ardern to become the next leader, who was voted in unanimously by her colleagues. Grant Robertson, who had lost a leadership bid to Little in 2014, nominated Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis as deputy leader — the first Māori MP to hold that position in the party’s history.

Ardern held a press conference later that day where she said that the policies Labour had campaigned on thus far would remain largely unchanged, but that the tone of Labour’s campaign would now involve “relentless positivity.” With the general election looming, Ardern said her party would run “the campaign of our lives.”

In what political scientist Bryce Edwards has called “Jacindamania”, Ardern’s ascent to the leadership was greeted enthusiastically by Labour supporters. Just a day after she became leader, Labour received new donations totalling $250,000 and the support of around 1000 new volunteers. The party’s General Secretary Andrew Kirton said he had “never seen anything remotely like this.”

Hoping to gain the support of young voters, Ardern described herself as “youth adjacent”. She is one of two millennial party leaders, the other being ACT’s David Seymour. Ardern remains committed to Labour’s “Working Futures” policy introduced last year, which offers three years of tertiary education free — a policy which may help the party gain a greater share of the youth vote this election. Labour MP Trevor Mallard said Ardern has “got the advantage of youth and vibe and an ability to connect.”

However, Ardern’s detractors pointed out that the leadership change was little more than window-dressing, and that Labour would have to change its policy platform rather than just refresh its leadership if it wants to govern. National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce said in an interview on August 3 that “the bigger problem for Labour is it’s the same Labour Party.”

National chose not to attack Ardern’s own credibility after she became leader. Steven Joyce said that Ardern was “as capable as any of the other leaders we’ve been up against.” Joyce preferred to undermine Labour’s reliability instead, saying that “there’s a possibility that people just aren’t keen on the [party’s] message.”

The Opportunities Party leader Gareth Morgan described Ardern as “a breath of fresh air” and hopes that Labour can now “make a contest of this election.” Morgan offered all of his party’s policies to Ardern on August 3, stating that Labour has “historically been the most innovative of the major parties by far” and that ultimately he is unconcerned about who implements their policies, only that they do get implemented.

Māori Party President Tukoroirangi Morgan told the press on August 4 that Māori “want our party to work with Labour if it’s in a position to form a government after September 23.” Morgan said that Andrew Little had “closed the door” on the chance of working with the Māori Party. In an interview earlier this year, Little had said that Māori interests are not best served by the Māori Party because National “doesn’t listen to them on anything if it doesn’t wish to.”

Current polling suggests that Labour will need the support of both the Greens and NZ First to govern after the election. NZ First leader Winston Peters has said that a referendum on abolishing the Māori electorates would be a “bottom line” for his support for a Labour-led government. It is unlikely that the Māori Party will support such a coalition given that its Leader, Te Ururoa Flavell, is the MP for the Māori electorate of Waiariki.

The “Jacinda Effect” helped Labour rise by nine points to 33.1% in a Reid Research poll published on August 9 一 Labour’s highest poll result since 2014. The poll boosted Labour’s confidence after months of difficulties; Ardern said the result was “heartening […] but we’re not going to be resting on our laurels from this.”

Now facing a charismatic opponent who is garnering attention from both the public and party leaders, National will need to stress its economic policy if it is to regain the attention of the voting public. Prime Minister Bill English said on August 2 that “it’s going to be the contest of ideas more than personalities which matter […] We will be working hard to win that battle of ideas.”

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