Chris Hipkins is set to become New Zealand’s next Prime Minister, after he was the only nomination for Labour’s leadership today.
In a statement, Labour’s whip Duncan Webb said the caucus would meet at 1pm on Sunday to endorse the nomination and confirm Hipkins as party leader.
Hipkins, who will speak to the media at 1pm today, will become Prime Minister once Jacinda Ardern formally resigns the post. It is not yet clear exactly when that will happen. She announced her resignation on Thursday.
Carmel Sepuloni is almost certain to be deputy leader to Hipkins after Kiri Allan rules herself out.
Labour MP Kiri Allan says she does not intend to put her hand up to be incumbent Labour leader Chris Hipkins’ deputy – and it is understood Carmel Sepuloni is set to get the role.
Allan told the NZ Herald she would not be running for the deputy Prime Minister or deputy leader roles.
”I really want to give Chris the space to choose the team he thinks will take us through for the electoral win. I back him.”
She did not expect there to be much “argy bargy” or contest around the roles.
“There will be some simple decisions to make and I think it will be a pretty simple process.”
Caucus elects the Labour party’s deputy leader – usually the person the leader says they prefer – while the Prime Minister chooses the deputy Prime Minister. The two are usually held by the same person, but Ardern has had Kelvin Davis as her deputy leader and Grant Robertson as deputy Prime Minister.
It is understood Allan was one of those who nominated Hipkins as leader – at least seven MPs were needed for the nomination.
Allan told the NZ Herald she had supported Hipkins because he was intelligent and experienced and had been involved in the leadership group of the party for the past six years “through some of our hardest times.”
”He’s had a lot of time, he’s got a lot of skin in the game. He’s been here for many years. He’s ready. And we’re ready as a team right behind him.“
”I’m really proud of him. I am going to be so excited to serve in his government.”
Allan said the uncontested leadership handover showed there was a “cohesive, unified team ready to keep on going.” She said he was already well known by voters.
”Once New Zealanders get to know Chris as a person and not just a politician, they will see what we see. An intelligent man who has diligently serves – a competent man. That’s what they will see too.”
Asked if she thought Hipkins – who has never contested the leadership before – would be surprised to find himself becoming PM almost overnight, she said he knew that a week could be a long time in politics.
”We found out this week that even a day can be extraordinarily long and many things can change. Chris knows the environment. I’m sure he would have had a chuckle at some point or a ‘goodness gracious me, what’s just gone on.’ But he knows just how politics is and how things can operate.”
There had been speculation about whether others - including Michael Wood - would put their names forward for the nomination of the next Prime Minister, but Labour was keen for a tidy, uncontested handover.
The early momentum went behind Hipkins, including snap polls showing the public also believed he was the front-runner.
Hipkins is Police Minister and Education Minister, and became well known to many New Zealanders through his role as Covid-19 Minister. He was one of Ardern’s most trusted lieutenants.
The 44-year-old has been an MP since 2008, through Labour’s rocky nine years in Opposition before getting into Government in 2017.
He is not expected to comment publicly until after the caucus has endorsed him as its leader.
The Police and Education Minister was able to convince his colleagues he had enough party support to take over the top job, making him an automatic selection to replace Jacinda Ardern.
This should allow Hipkins to be sworn in as new PM ahead of a busy few weeks in politics, including Labour’s pilgrimage to Rātana, and Waitangi Day commemorations. Parliament is not set to return until February 14.
Nominations for candidates closed at 9am this morning.
Going into today, Hipkins, Kiri Allan, and Michael Wood’s names had all remained in the mix for a leadership or deputy position.
Another possible contender floated as deputy had been Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni.
Senior Labour Ministers Grant Robertson, Kelvin Davis, and Megan Woods all earlier ruled themselves out.
However, the Herald was told just prior to this morning’s 9am deadline that Allan had chosen not to stand for leader of the Labour Party - and was instead throwing her support behind Hipkins.
Speaking at Wellington Airport yesterday, Hipkins said stability and good leadership were top discussion points among the party.
He said conversations were “about making sure that we make a good, sound decision about who should be the leader of the party, that the party then unites behind that new leader and that we continue to provide the stability of leadership that New Zealanders have come to expect from us for the last five and a half years”.
“The conversations that I’ve had with my colleagues suggest that they take their responsibility very, very seriously,” he said.
“There is no fight going on here, everybody is just really constructively engaged in making sure we make a good decision.”
Ardern also spoke on Friday, saying she was confident a result could be stitched up quickly.
“I expect them to deliver a result. Everything I’ve seen from the caucus and heard from the caucus is they are very determined to make their decision on Sunday,” Ardern said at Napier Airport.
A Taxpayers’ Union-Curia Poll, which ran on Thursday and Friday, found Hipkins to be the most popular choice to replace Jacinda Ardern, winning 30 per cent of support among the public.
He was followed by Kiritapu Allan, who polled 10 per cent, Nanaia Mahuta with 8 per cent and Michael Wood on 6 per cent.
But none of the candidates produced a convincing majority among people polled - the most common response was “unsure”, on 41 per cent.
Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams, who commissioned the poll, had said “the only option is Chris Hipkins”.
Hipkins was supported by 30 per cent of National, 28 per cent of Act, and 20 per cent of “other” voters, suggesting widespread support.
Williams said this showed Hipkins was the only candidate who could appeal not just to rusted-on Labour and Greens supporters, but also among marginal voters Labour will need to win.
“Based on this snap poll, every other leadership contender would lose votes for Labour,” Williams said.
The poll also asked about some Labour policies that a new leader might ditch. At the end of 2022, Ardern said she would narrow Labour’s agenda after the summer, jettisoning some unpopular policies.
On the basis of this poll, voters are keen to ditch Three Waters reforms; 58 per cent of people wantthe policy gone, and only 18 per cent support it.
But as most of the Government’s Three Waters legislation has already passed, the Government is highly unlikely to backtrack on it, barring minor adjustments.
A future Labour leader could decide to dump other policies, however.
Labour’s next most unpopular policy is its plan to reduce speed limits around the country; 53 per cent of voters want that policy gone, and only 32 per cent want it kept.
Forty-seven per cent of people want the TVNZ-RNZ merger gone, and only 24 per cent of voters want it kept.
Two policies that were more popular than unpopular were KiwiBuild and the plan to build Auckland light rail. Forty-three per cent of voters want KiwiBuild kept, compared to just 28 per cent who want it gone. The margin for Auckland light rail was similar: 45 per cent want it kept and 27 per cent want it scrapped.
The poll took in 1000 respondents over Thursday and Friday. A snap poll, it only took in online respondents, rather than a mix of phone and online respondents.
Online respondents tend to skew to the left of the general public.
The maximum sampling error for a result of 50 per cent is 3.1 per cent, at the 95 per cent confidence level.