The morning had started out well for Chris Hipkins. He’d announced Labour’s plans to boost the Pharmac budget by $1 billion over the next four years, if re-elected, and had passed a blood pressure test at a medical clinic in Ōtāhuhu.

Considering new polling the night before had him unable to form a government and second behind National’s Christopher Luxon as preferred Prime Minister, for the first time, Hipkins remained calm.

According to Doctor Glenn Doherty, his blood pressure was in very good health despite the stress he must be under.

But with the campaign just past the midpoint and Hipkins in fight mode, once again he finds himself having to convince voters he has no plans to implement a wealth tax if in government after the election.

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Normally it’s his political opponents making him restate his position, but now it’s his own MP calling his intentions into question.

Labour MP and candidate for Wellington Central, Ibrahim Omer, told a meet-the-candidates gathering on Sunday that his party “hasn’t given up” on a wealth tax.

“The leader, now, for reasons that I understand, put it aside, but it’s part of our discussions,” Omer was filmed telling the crowd in response to a question about implementing a wealth tax.

The contents of the video were put to Hipkins at a stand-up in Õtāhuhu on Tuesday morning, where he said, “the Labour Party’s position for this election is very clear, there won’t be a wealth tax or a capital gains tax”.

Hipkins told Newsroom all political parties had a range of views and “internally there will continue to be debates around issues like taxation”.

But he stressed he had been “very clear” of his view on both taxes and that he would speak to Omer about his comments.

“I think he probably could have chosen his words more carefully,” he told Newsroom.

This comes just a week after Labour’s Ōhāriu MP, Greg O’Connor, received a telling off for speaking publicly about the likelihood his opponent in the seat, National’s Nicola Willis, will end up Finance Minister.

O’Connor is running an electorate-only campaign, and The Post reported him making comments at several events that “polling going the way it is” Willis is likely to be returned to Parliament as a minister. It was designed as a way of convincing people to support him with their electorate vote.

Hipkins didn’t speak to O’Connor directly about the comments but told Newsroom on Monday “he’s well aware of my views”.

These sorts of comments aren’t uncommon and rogue MPs mouthing off have plagued other parties in elections gone by.

A turning point for National at the 2020 election was a leaked email from then-MP Denise Lee to her caucus criticizing the party leader, Judith Collins, and her decision to review Auckland Council.

National had promised, if elected, to launch an inquiry at Auckland Council, and Lee, who was the party’s spokesperson for local government in Auckland, had taken issue with both the announcement and not being involved in the policy development.

The email itself wasn’t good for the caucus but the fact someone in the party leaked it to media reflected just how divided things had become.

The problem for Hipkins is that if he doesn’t shift the dial in the polls, his MPs will only get more nervous.

Once again it was in the face of bad polling and fears from MPs that they wouldn’t make it back to Parliament. In Lee’s case the red tidal wave of 2020 saw her bow out of politics.

Polling is coming in thick and fast now with just 17 days until the election, and MPs and candidates will be furiously doing the maths as each new one drops, working out whether they have any hope of being back.

Monday night’s Newshub Reid Research poll had Labour down 0.3 points to 26.5 percent, which would only equate to 33 seats on election night, compared with the 65 it got at the last election.

The trend for Labour has been in a downward direction for months now and many of the seats it won at the 2020 election will inevitably flip back to National next month.

It means MPs standing in uncertain seats, like O’Connor and Omer, are grasping to find something to keep the electorate vote on side.

For Omer he knows a wealth tax is popular in Wellington Central so he told the crowd what many of them would have wanted to hear, regardless of the fact he was putting words in the mouth of Hipkins that aren’t true.

O’Connor only has the electorate vote, with no list placing, and is trying to convince people to do a 2-for-1 deal and put him in Parliament and let Willis ride in on the list.

From a personal and career perspective it makes sense but undermines Hipkins in the process.

It’s damaging to his credibility as he tries to convince the country the election is still a tight race and Labour remains in the game.

The problem for Hipkins is that if he doesn’t shift the dial in the polls, his MPs will only get more nervous.

Rather than saving the furniture for the wider party good, some will simply be set on saving themselves.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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