Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it won’t be the 2020 landslide, but she still believes Labour has a good chance of winning the election - and has taken an early swipe at National leader Christopher Luxon’s inexperience as the first buds of the election campaign appear.
Speaking to the Weekend Herald ahead of Labour’s annual conference in Auckland this week - and about a year before the next election - Ardern said she would tell those delegates that Labour still had “every chance” of winning the 2023 election.
That election is expected to be about a year away and comes as Labour is struggling in the polls against the National Party.
Ardern said she was not panicking about the polling - although she acknowledged it would not be like 2020, when Labour got that rare majority.
“I’m expecting election 2023 to be a classic MMP election. Labour has been in more difficult positions than even we are now and still succeeded in election year. That is absolutely what we have in our sights.”
“Yes, it won’t be like 2020. There are many things about 2020 we want to leave behind. This will be classic MMP.”
Ardern also made it clear she intended to target Luxon’s political inexperience in politics when that election comes. Asked what she thought of him after about a year leading National, Ardern pointed to his lack of experience in politics.
“For me in this job, particularly in times that are a bit more uncertain, experience matters. And when I say experience, I don’t think it’s fair to say that having worked in particular parts of any other part of the system, then makes you instantly ready for this job. I think experience in this job will matter going forward for the next couple of years that we have facing us. So, I bring that.”
When it was pointed out she too had not had experience as PM before getting the job, she said she had at least had 10 years of political experience - and that was critical in putting up Labour’s plans. Of Luxon, she said “I haven’t seen a lot of new proposals.”
The election may also see Ardern’s wedding delayed even longer - Ardern and Clarke Gayford had intended to get married earlier this year, but Covid-19 restrictions led to it being called off just before the date.
Ardern said they had not yet set a new date. “We had loosely said this summer, but then we were just too slow and our friends are too busy and all over the place, so we’ve probably left it a little bit too late.”
While they had said they would get married before the next election, Ardern said it had now been left too late. “Barring something spontaneous, I can’t see how that’s going to happen.”
“I can assure you I put all my effort into running the country as opposed to my own wedding plans.”
If Ardern cannot win that election, she will have a lot more time for wedding planning.
To try to ensure that does not happen, Ardern is expected to make an announcement on the cost of living on Sunday - and while she would not give any clues as to what it might be, she did signal more help could be on the way after the cost of living payment ended last month.
Responding to the Herald’s Rebuilding Better poll showing the cost of living was the biggest concern for voters, Ardern said it was tough for everybody and the Government was keeping a “rolling review” of ways to target help at families.
“That’s the focus for us, how do we continue to provide targeted support that can make a difference.”
“There is no question that is front of our minds at the moment and no question in my mind that issues such as the cost of living, the economy and significant challenges for the economy will be top of the agenda in 2023 as well.”
Asked if she was preparing to kill off unpopular reforms or policies - as she did with the capital gains tax in 2019 - Ardern said it was incumbent on any party to consider whether certain policies should be a priority or not.
“I’m always looking to make improvements but at the same time we need to act responsibly.”
She ruled out scrapping the Three Waters reforms.
“There’s a lot of noise around Three Waters. The politically easy thing might be for us to walk away from that. But if we did that, we would be making the decision to put thousands of dollars onto ratepayers’ bills. That’s not the responsible thing to do, and it’s not the right thing to do. It’s the politically easy thing to do.”
She said there were legitimate concerns, but it was also a cost of living issue.
Asked if that was her stand even if it cost Labour the election, she said “it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t”.
On hate speech, she said she did believe there was a way to deliver on that despite the outcry, and the ambition was to find a solution that was accepted.
She was keen to get cross-party support on it.
On the proposal for an income insurance scheme, paid for by levying wages, she said it would not come into effect until 2024 or 2025, by which time inflation should have eased.
She acknowledged debating it during a cost of living crisis was not an easy time to have the discussion. However, pointing to the Herald’s Rebuilding Better series, she said if Covid-19 and economic shocks had taught the country anything, it was that when people lost their jobs, it had a massive impact on their abilities to keep their homes and support their families.
“It can create long-term economic scarring. We want to fix that problem.”