Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton's political ambitions took a knock this week from the fallout from the summer camp, where a 20-year-old is alleged to have sexually assaulted four people aged between 16 and 18.

But he has built up so much political capital since taking up the position in April 2016 that his chances of becoming an MP in the future, if he chooses that path, are unlikely to be dented.

"He's one of our best, a serious talent," said senior minister and 2017 campaign chair Phil Twyford, who Kirton reported to in his capacity as 2017 campaign manager.

"Managing a general election campaign, that is a big deal. A complex undertaking. He's just extremely competent. Notwithstanding this recent episode, he's a very talented guy."


Party president Nigel Haworth held firm when asked about possible resignations over the bungling of the summer camp incidents. "No one is stepping down. Andrew is a first-class general secretary."

Kirton, 37, was told about the allegations in the days that followed the camp, but did not immediately tell the victims' parents, police, or Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

He defended the approach as being victim-led, but admitted that the initial offer of help should have been clearer in terms of supporting a police complaint, and professional help for the victims should have been brought in earlier.

Described by those in the party as smart, personable, empathetic and very capable, he is widely seen as someone who would make a great MP.

Kirton, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has been a Labour supporter since he was a teenager despite family ties to other parties.

His father Weston Kirton, a former Ruapehu District mayor, ran unsuccessfully for National in Taupo in 2002 and 2005, and his uncle Neil Kirton became a NZ First MP and associate health minister in 1996 before he was fired and became an independent MP.

Kirton was one of four children growing up in a Catholic household on a dairy farm near Taumarunui. His politics was shaped early when the value of the farm was halved with the axing of farming subsidies during the Rogernomics years in the 1980s.

Kirton boarded at Sacred Heart College in Auckland and then majored in business management and marketing at Lincoln University.


He was already being marked as a good political operator by 2005, when he co-chaired the NZ University Students' Association with Camilla Belich, who is now his wife and mother of their two daughters.

Andrew Kirton and his wife Camilla Belich are both considered to have bright political futures, with the rumour mill talking them up as future Labour MPs. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Andrew Kirton and his wife Camilla Belich are both considered to have bright political futures, with the rumour mill talking them up as future Labour MPs. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Belich, who is also a member of the Labour Party, is a lawyer for Bartlett Law and has won acclaim for her role in winning a high-profile case in the Court of Justice of the European Union about safe working hours.

She is the granddaughter of former Wellington mayor Sir James Belich and the niece of renowned historian James Belich.

The high-flying couple are seen as having great political potential, fuelling speculation that both of them could become Labour MPs.

Kirton worked as an organiser for the finance sector union Finsec before becoming an adviser to Pacific Island Affairs Minister Winnie Laban in 2006, and then communications adviser to Helen Clark a year later.

When Clark lost the 2008 election, Kirton headed to the UK on a scholarship to study politics and government at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He was head of public affairs for Heathrow Airport, and then head of corporate communications for international construction company Mace, before returning to New Zealand in 2016 to become Labour's general secretary.

It was April 2016, and Labour was polling about 30 per cent and looking down the barrel of a fourth term in Opposition.

His commercial and corporate experience is viewed as invaluable as Labour has sought to modernise its party structures and fundraising processes.

"We were very lucky to attract Andrew from his commercial career," Haworth said.

Kirton is viewed as being instrumental in helping Haworth's push to revamp the fundraising process; in 2014, Labour spent $1.27 million on its election campaign, less than half of the $2.58 million it spent on election advertising in the 2017 campaign.

Neale Jones, Hawker-Britton's NZ director and former chief of staff to leaders Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern, credits Kirton as a major reason in the party's changing fortunes.

"He revolutionised our fundraising and the way we engaged with volunteers. Jacinda lit the torch, but without the systems in place to handle that, we wouldn't have been able to harness that surge of support that came through. Andrew should take a lot of credit."

Twyford said the party's preparation for the 2017 campaign was streaks ahead compared to previous elections, "in large part to Andrew's leadership and management skills".

But failing to tell Ardern straight away about what happened at Waihi has left a black mark on Kirton's political judgment.

Jones and Twyford are both coy on how the past week would affect Kirton's political ambitions.

Jones said that the public expected Labour to have handled the Waihi situation better.

"It's a very serious thing because some people have been mistreated. But knowing Andrew, he would have been guided at all times by doing the right thing for the victims as he understood it.

"Unfortunately for Andrew, he often has to be the front for the party in difficult situations. What he doesn't get publicity for is the tremendous work he's done in the background to build the party up to where it is today."

Twyford said Kirton will not be thinking about the damage to his reputation.​

"What he'll be concerned about is that we let people down."

A month after becoming general secretary, Kirton appeared to pour cold water on ambitions of being an MP when he told the Listener that people could contribute without standing for Parliament.

But at the end of the last year, he said he hadn't ruled out standing, and wanted to return to the private sector before maybe heading down that path.

Jones has known Kirton since they were at university and says Kirton would make a "very good MP, but that's up to him".

Twyford went further and said he hoped Kirton would eventually stand "for the good of the party".

Asked if he wanted to bestow upon Kirton the kiss of death and proclaim him a potential future leader, Twyford said: "I wouldn't do that to my best friends."