Analysis: Annette King's departure: Labour loyal to the last

Annette King (Three)

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That came out of the blue.

For all the protestations that Labour deputy leader Annette King has not been pushed out of her job, today's announcement looks a bit too sudden to be interpreted as anything else. 

Her comments on the weekend – that calls for new Mt Albert MP and rising star Jacinda Ardern to replace her as deputy were "ageist" and dismissing the fact Ms Ardern now has an electorate base as being something that does not matter these days, seemed to indicate a reluctance to make way for Ms Ardern. 

Other mutterings from Mrs King, which seemed to suggest that, like many other onlookers, she regards Ms Ardern as being somewhat lacking in the substance department, all sent a firm message that she was not intending to step aside gracefully. 

Yet that is what she did today, praising Ms Ardern and also reversing her previous view that holding an electorate seat does not really matter these days. 

She told NBR Radio's Grant Walker she has watched Ms Ardern develop and grow and the Mt Albert electorate, the safe Labour seat Ms Ardern won in last weekend's by-election against minimal opposition, would provide a solid "home base" from which to operate. 

In other words, Mrs King's positions today are remarkably at variance with her comments two or three days ago. 

So, something happened.

The crude response is to conclude Mrs King was leant on by leader Andrew Little. The two are not particularly close and Labour needs Ms Ardern's Auckland appeal and general star quality. 

Both Mr Little and Mrs King deny this.

They may even be telling the truth. 

More likely it is that Mrs King, who has been in Parliament, with the exception of a three-year break, continuously since 1984, was able to sniff the way the political breeze is blowing and decided to do the decent – and sensible – thing. 

There was probably also some ambivalence in her own mind about staying.

Mrs King almost definitely could have held on if she had wanted to. Her standing with her fellow MPs, and with the wider Labour Party, is high. There were several occasions in recent years she could have been leader had she wanted the role, but she shied away from it. 

Behind the scenes, she has a reputation as a unifying force in a caucus not always distinguished by individuals who have that politically vital capacity. "Auntie Annette," as some have called her, is well regarded.

In short, she is a loyal Labour soldier. 

And the loyal thing to do right now was to make way for a new generation rather than become a focal point for future troubles. She knows, full well, how damaging that would have become, especially in an election year.

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