Jacinda Ardern’s resignation as Prime Minister today is more shocking than John Key’s six years ago for two reasons.
Firstly, she so decisively dismissed speculation four months ago of a premature departure.
And secondly, because it is difficult to believe she continued with her plan, knowing that the most obvious successor, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, ruled himself out of becoming Prime Minister.
But she did and that leaves a much bigger problem for the country and for Labour than Key did, just as the country and the world is on the verge of recession.
Bill English, also Deputy PM and Finance Minister, was the obvious choice in 2016 and at a much less precarious time economically. And Steven Joyce was waiting in the wings if English had, inexplicably, turned it down.
Ardern and Robertson are in a league of their own within the Labour Cabinet.
Their respective decisions leave a vacuum.
Robertson’s decision may be a selfless one. He is heavily invested in getting the New Zealand economy through tumultuous times and may feel a responsibility to stay in place as Minister of Finance.
He should not feel burdened by the vow he made in 2014 to not seek the Labour leadership again, having lost narrowly to Andrew Little. He is needed now.
The best option would be for Robertson to change his mind, to step up to become Prime Minister and to give Finance to Chris Hipkins, or to Associate Finance Minister Megan Woods.
The second best option would be for Hipkins to become Prime Minister and obviously leave Finance with Robertson.
Hipkins is next best to Ardern and Robertson in terms of capability and credibility, and is the person most likely to cause the least pain for the public in terms of a transition to a new Prime Minister.
If he puts up his hand for the Labour vote on Sunday, he should have no competition.
This is not the time for a contest between Hipkins and high-performing minister Michael Wood. That contest would have happened in Opposition, had Ardern stayed in place and lost the next election.
This is not the time for a breath of fresh air or installing a new generation of leadership, such as Kiri Allan or Ayesha Verrall. They may well put up their hands but they should not. Their turn will come.
This is not the time to install Labour deputy Kelvin Davis, in order to finally get the first Māori Prime Minister. If he did not have the confidence to become Deputy Prime Minister, he should rule himself out of the top job.
This is the time for stability, competence and safe hands.
It is a time for Labour to think about the country and not themselves.
Persuade Robertson to change his mind, or persuade Hipkins that the country needs him.