Analysis: Retirements are due to be announced by the Prime Minister this week, and Labour’s loss in Hamilton West less than a year out from the next election may have helped crystallise the decision for some.

Tama Potaka’s win over Georgie Dansey on Saturday was not easy, especially given he was fighting third-placed ACT MP James McDowall for votes on the right and Dansey didn’t have a Green Party candidate to contend with.

The man responsible for the Christmas rush to the polls, former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma, had done so much damage to his own brand he scraped in at fourth.

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Potaka is an impressive selection for National and a worthwhile addition to the National Party caucus. He brings spades of diversity and real-life experience – something National failed to find in its last win in Tauranga.

National’s campaign manager, Chris Bishop, didn’t hold back on Saturday night, declaring “change is coming” when the preliminary results showed Potaka won 46 percent of the vote to Dansey’s 30 percent.

Just as time can trip people up, it can also provide ample opportunity to set a ship on a new course.

The blue team was already heading into the summer break with the wind behind its sails after both the Newshub Reid Research and 1News Kantar Public Poll this month showed National and ACT able to govern alone.

Christopher Luxon and his team would no doubt have preferred a slightly higher voter turnout in Hamilton West to reinforce its message around the tide turning. Just 31 percent of eligible voters showed up based on preliminary numbers – the second worst turnout of the five by-elections since 2016.

But low turnout or not, National will be the ones popping the champagne on Christmas Day.

It would pay for National to remember, however, the election isn’t just around the corner, and nobody is immune from a damaging blunder one day to the next.

With a relatively inexperienced team on the National benches, gaffes are a constant threat and Luxon will be only too aware of how careful he and his colleagues need to tread in 2023.

Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson aren’t going to lie down and accept it is game over either.

Next year will be a true MMP fight and each party is out to get every single last vote – Labour included.

While Ardern and Robertson might have a heap of soul-searching to do over summer, they’ll also be dusting off the boxing gloves.

It only took Ardern two months to go from deputy leader of the embattled opposition to Prime Minister in 2017.

Just as time can trip people up, it can also provide ample opportunity to set a ship on a new course.

The Labour leadership and its most senior and experienced ministers will not have been surprised by the thumping it received from National at the weekend.

Ardern and Robertson’s language has shifted to a more realistic and defensive tone in recent months as the cost-of-living crisis tightens on household back pockets and economic headwinds are forecast to get even bleaker.

It came as little surprise that Ardern, in her interview with Newsroom last week, revealed she would spend the summer break reprioritising her party’s work programme to clear the decks for 2023.

Summer would allow an opportunity to, “just pause, stand back and say, in the next 12 months what are the things we really need to prioritise, and by prioritising does it mean there are things that you then just say we don’t have the capacity within government to pursue those issues, and they’re just not the most important things for us”.

Some of the party’s more controversial reforms are now destined for the chopping block or will be pushed to the election manifesto to be reconsidered on some future sunnier day.

A final decision on how and when is best to meet the commitments of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will go before Cabinet on December 19.

Its minister, Willie Jackson, already signalled to Newsroom a fortnight ago that he is set to slam the brakes on, acknowledging very few New Zealanders understand what the point of it is.

The RNZ/TVNZ merger is having the same problem of late and the March 1 deadline for the legislation to be passed is coming around awfully quick, which leaves very little time for Jackson and his Cabinet colleagues to explain its merit to the public.

Ardern hinted to Newsroom last week it was not particularly secure on the government to-do-list as it is, saying “we’ve still got work to do on the merger, it’s not completed. It is not, however, number one on the government agenda.”

Then there’s the income insurance scheme to be considered. The business lobby is offside already as indicated by this year’s Mood of the Boardroom survey where the highest-ranked government minister was Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

Labour will be pondering if this is another fight it really wants to have.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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