Comment: “I could do this all day if you want,” Chris Hipkins chuckled as he refused to rule in or out various transport programmes and taxes that Labour may or may not take to the October election.

With another five weeks until Parliament rises, Hipkins wants to eke every day out of his prime ministership before hitting the campaign proper.

Unfortunately for him the other political parties launched into campaign mode weeks ago and for many it feels like the campaign is already in full swing. Public meetings with MPs are happening across the country every week and policy is being launched by party leaders almost every second day.

It means Hipkins is constantly being asked to put his Labour leader hat on – a hat he prefers a whole heap less than the prime minister one he only got hold of six months ago.

* Chris Hipkins’ gift to Grant Robertson
* Hipkins on disagreeing with Ardern
Labour and National scrap it out to do very little

It’s short memory syndrome though for anyone suggesting this is a problem unique to Hipkins or even Labour.

The period immediately before the campaign is often a launching pad for the Opposition to get in early to claw some of the headlines off the government of the day.

It forces it to be responding to the Opposition’s hypothetical ideas in the future, rather than talking about the projects it’s rolling out with actual money in real time.

Prime Ministers John Key, Bill English and Jacinda Ardern all dealt with this to varying extents ahead of their respective election races.

On Monday, Hipkins spent most of his 40-minute post-Cabinet press conference hovering in limbo-land not wanting to say what Labour’s policy on transport or taxes was, despite for the most part having already decided on it.

In the coming weeks Labour will start to drip feed some of its party manifesto, but the bulk of it will be saved for the campaign, which doesn’t officially start until September 1.

That’s the exact same approach former successive governments have taken for decades.

Where there could be issues is Labour’s tax policy, which was promised to land in the last fortnight.

On Monday, Hipkins said it would be in the next few weeks, prompting questions as to whether there is disagreement within the party about what it campaigns on in that regard.

Now that National has appeared to let some of the cat out of the bag, with deputy leader Nicola Willis going public with Labour’s plan to take GST off fruit and vegetables, it could be that Labour is reworking its package to re-insert some surprise factor.

The most absurd part of Labour’s candidate selections this week is Tamati Coffey’s decision to take one for the team and run in Kiri Allan’s East Coast electorate.

If Hipkins wants to get off the back foot of pointing out everything he thinks is wrong with the Opposition’s policies but not providing any of his own, he’s going to have to start giving voters a hint of what a Labour government after October 14 would look like.

It only needs to be a taste, though.

Saving most of it until September isn’t terrible politics given most voters don’t tune in to the election until a couple of weeks out.

Most of the back and forth and speculation this week over whether Labour will or won’t back Let’s Get Wellington Moving or Auckland light rail won’t register highly with anyone other than political tragics.

And while National is pumping out policies in the dozens, it’s yet to properly cost anything as it waits for the most up-to-date numbers from Treasury ahead of the election – at which point some of its plans will have to be tinkered with.

On one thing Labour is ahead after it released its candidate list for the 2023 election on Monday.

National and Te Pāti Māori are yet to do so, while Act and the Greens announced theirs in the past two months.

There was nothing overly surprising or interesting in Labour’s rankings – a good thing when it comes to party lists.

Cabinet ministers and whips were ranked the highest and the rest of the winnable spots were made up of up-and-coming talent relying on the list to be safe, and backbenchers Labour hopes will win their seats.

Former ministers Michael Wood and Phil Twyford saw the biggest demotions, but neither should be surprised to be on the outer given there’s a reason they’re both no longer in Cabinet.

The most absurd part of Labour’s candidate selections this week is Tamati Coffey’s decision to take one for the team and run in Kiri Allan’s East Coast electorate.

Coffey was the only Labour MP to lose his seat in the red tidal wave of the 2020 election, and both he and the party have known for quite some time Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi will almost certainly hold on to Waiariki in October.

Having not been promoted within the party, it had been made clear to Coffey his political future was coming to a close, so in March he announced he was leaving politics to spend more time with his family.

Fast-forward to five weeks out from the campaign and suddenly Hipkins is describing Coffey as “talented”, an “incredibly strong candidate” and “a proven experienced member of Parliament”.

It’s desperate times for Labour, which had already been scrambling to find a replacement for Meka Whaitiri in Ikaroa-Rawhiti after she upped sticks and defected to Te Pāti Māori.

With no obvious contenders for East Coast and time running out, Labour’s dipped into its existing pool to fix an unexpected problem, knowing it will be tough for anyone to win the seat in a close election anyway.

If Coffey doesn’t, his list spot provides little comfort he’d get back in, putting Labour’s thoughts on his political future back in sharp focus.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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