Incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins says it’s a “big day from a boy from the Hutt” and he’s more than ready to take on the role. But can he turn around the Labour Party’s electoral fortunes?
Police Minister and Remutaka MP Chris Hipkins has been confirmed as the Labour Party’s sole nominee to replace Jacinda Ardern as prime minister, which he says is the “biggest privilege of his life”.
Hipkins will head into Sunday’s caucus meeting without any challenger, the sole obstacle being the two-thirds majority he needs to secure if the leadership contest is to not go to the wider membership for a vote.
That is all but a formality, meaning it will be Hipkins who has the task of reviving Labour’s electoral fortunes and preventing National leader Christopher Luxon from returning the centre-right party to power.
Hipkins addressed media Saturday afternoon, saying it was “a big day for the boy from the Hutt”.
The weight of the responsibility was still sinking in, but he’d returned from summer refreshed and “ready to get into it”. It was a “massive honour to have this opportunity to be prime minister”.
Asked about what kind of person he was, Hipkins described himself as upfront, inclusive and that “people won’t die wondering what I think”. He also pointed out that he knew how to laugh at himself.
Would he stay on as Opposition leader if the election doesn’t go Labour’s way?
“I don’t intend to lose in 2023.”
Hipkins wouldn’t go into any detail about policy, but described the Government’s approach as “strong, stable and unified”.
He stressed however that the process had not yet finished and he would wait for the outcome of Sunday’s caucus meeting. A reshuffle would be worked out in the coming days.
Earlier on Saturday in a statement, Labour whip Duncan Webb said Hipkins was the only nomination to become party leader. “The Labour Party caucus will meet at 1pm on Sunday to endorse the nomination and confirm Chris Hipkins as party leader,” Webb said.
Hipkins alone has responsibility for choosing his deputy leader and deputy prime minister, although in practice is likely to ensure a majority of MPs support his preference.
The Remutaka MP first entered Parliament at the 2008 election, having previously worked as a ministerial advisor to Trevor Mallard and Helen Clark in the fifth Labour government.
He has been a trusted member of the Prime Minister’s inner circle, sometimes known as the ‘kitchen cabinet’, after Labour came to power in 2017.
Hipkins has served as Ardern’s ‘Mr Fix-It’, having held the education and public service ministerial portfolios since 2017 in addition to his organisational duties as Leader of the House. He succeeded Poto Williams as police minister last June, following a wave of negative headlines about rising crime.
The MP is perhaps best known to the public through his role in New Zealand’s pandemic response as Covid-19 response minister, a position he gave up in mid-2022 having fronted much of the Government’s policy work and press conferences in relation to the virus.
In a briefing just an hour after Hipkins’ press conference, National Party leader Christopher Luxon said the decision on a new leader didn’t change anything for him and he would be focusing on the country’s economic challenges ahead.
He said New Zealand was going backwards under Labour and problems weren’t being solved.
“You can change the Labour leadership as much as you like but New Zealanders are doing it tough and they really want a government to come in and get things done.”
Minister Kiri Allan said on Instagram that over the past 48 hours caucus had the opportunity to think deeply about the attributes New Zealand needs in a new leader to take the country forward.
“Chris is decisive and will be an incredibly strong Prime Minister,” she wrote. He is extremely competent, with a track record of delivering for New Zealand as one of our most senior ministers over the past six years.
“Our team are a deep pool of talent, unified in our values and approach, who will continue to work hard every single day to make sure the voices of all New Zealanders are heard at the decision making table.
Carmel Sepuloni tweeted a photo of herself and Hipkins from days gone by and said Hipkins had incredible political nous and instinct, was decisive and knew how to navigate government – both inside and out.
Grant Robertson posted a photo of Labour MPs who did the Oxfam Trailwalk, including Jacinda Ardern and Hipkins.
“My mate Chippy has been there through thick and thin,” he wrote.
“He is experienced and deeply grounded in Labour values. When I think of him, one of the first things that pops into my mind is that he is an amazing Dad. His care and love for his kids is something I so admire. He is going to be a great Leader and PM. Still a bit of our process to go, but very proud of our Labour team!”
Green Party co-leader James Shaw said he had been impressed with Chris Hipkins “at every turn”.
“He’s taken on some of the toughest jobs in Government and done a really good job of them, so I think he’ll be excellent.”
Shaw said Hipkins brought strength to his work as a minister and upholds Labour Party values.
The Greens didn’t agree with the Labour Party on everything, Shaw said, but the working relationship had been really constructive.
Meanwhile, ACT leader David Seymour immediately put out a press release saying Hipkins needed to show he was prepared to “deliver on substance instead of snowing New Zealand with spin”.
“Chris Hipkins needs to start by dumping the fantasy policies that Labour has pushed: the media merger, divisive Three Waters reforms, so-called Fair Pay Agreements, income insurance that is really a jobs tax, and all of the wasteful spending that is driving inflation. The polls show Kiwis have rejected these policies. They want a government that is focused on crime, rising inflation, removing restrictions on businesses and allowing workers, and stopping the erosion of democratic rights.”
The news has already made headlines overseas.
The Sydney Morning Herald described Hipkins as a “well-liked member of Parliament, known for his sense of humour and enjoyment of sausage roles” as well as taking a significant role during the Covid response.
The Murdoch-owned News.com.au also reported on Hipkins being the sole nomination for the Labour leader, while The Australian is leading with Hipkins’ ascension to the top job after what it called Ardern’s “shock exit”.
In the UK, The Guardian is reporting that Hipkins is an experienced MP with what it calls a “ruthless streak in the debating chamber” but also a knowledge of the machinery of government.
– additional reporting RNZ