Is Labour better off without Andrew Little as leader?
Andrew Little will be part of Labour’s front bench if it is able to form a government after September’s election and will be a minister, the party’s newly minted leader, Jacinda Ardern, says.
The new Labour leader fronted to media this morning after Mr Little revealed he would be stepping down from the party’s top job earlier today seven weeks out from the general election. He backed his deputy “100%” as his replacement.
She was joined at the press conference by senior Labour MPs, including her new deputy Kelvin Davis (also elected unopposed) – but Mr Little was absent.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” she says. “Everyone knows I have just accepted the worst job in politics.”
She stressed the fact that it may take some time for the party figure out its next steps, saying she will take 72 hours to “take stock.”
Ms Ardern also hinted that she has some new policies on the way.
“You will hear more from myself and my team on this, in the future.”
Although she says Mr Little’s announcement “was not expected or wanted,” she considers herself “incredibly lucky” to have taken up the leadership of the party.
She acknowledges the fact she is young, having just turned 37 last month. If elected prime minister, she would be one of the youngest in New Zealand’s history. But she points to her 20 years of experience working in and around politics.
This includes different youth political movements and parties.
Asked about leading a government with Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First, Ms Ardern cited her previous political experience.
“I used to be the president of an international youth organisation that had members from Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.
“I think I can do this.”
She insists Mr Little's decision to step down was his and his alone, saying she did not ask him to step aside.
"We have been through some tough times as a [Labour] family but we are totally, totally united.”
Ms Ardern confirmed the memorandum of understanding Labour has with the Green Party is still in place but says she is running Labour’s campaign – “I don’t want to be drawn into another party’s campaign.”
Asked about a potential coalition deal with New Zealand First, she said Labour would wait until after the election to make that decision but said she would need to find “common ground” with leader Winston Peters.
“I like single malts,” she laughed, a nod to Mr Peters’ love of a good whiskey.
Former Labour president Mike Williams says putting Ms Ardern in the top job is a gamble, but one he would take.
“She will galvanise the workers. I would actually give credit to Andrew Little because the party is actually in the best shape it’s been in ten years, in my view. The polls don’t say it but there’s good policy in every area and a slate of candidates I would die for – they’ve got good organisation and they’ve actually got a bit of money.”
Mr Williams says the new leader only has to be herself. “She’s a highly attractive woman with an attractive personality and she's easy on the eye.”
While Ms Ardern will be under pressure her career will survive even if she does not win this September. “A success for Jacinda is not necessarily a win – it’s anything better than 23%," he says.
“They’ve still got eight weeks so the hoardings can be stickered over and they will already be in production. There are a lot of party vote hoardings this time which is good. It will be interesting to see if they use Jacinda or also Kelvin Davis who is a threat to the Maori Party.”
In terms of the Maori Party, Mr Davis says Labour would be “open to anything” after the election.
“If the Maori Party is still standing after the election, they would have to up their game if they want to work with us,” he says.
Ms Ardern says Labour is campaigning to win all seven of the Maori seats.
RELATED VIDEO: Will Jacinda Ardern promoted to deputy leader? Is she looking to become prime minister? (Feb 16)
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