Thursday, January 26, 2023

The new team begins

Yesterday, The Governor General of New Zealand, Dame Cindy Kiro, signed the official documents appointing Chris Hipkins the 41st Prime Minister of New Zealand. His Deputy Prime Minister is Carmel Sepuloni, and that’s historic in that she’s the first person of Pacific heritage to be in that role. The transfer of power was smooth and easy. Now, it’s back to the business of governing.

I’ve never met Chris or Carmel, though we’ve all been at Labour Party events at the same time. This means that my opinion of them is based on the same sort of real-world observations as anyone else. From what I’ve personally seen, I think they’ll both do well.

The one question that’s asked a lot is, can Chris lead Labour to an election victory later this year? Not only is the answer “absolutely!”, I think any one who bets against him and Labour is being very foolish. [See also: ”Chris Hipkins as PM could sway 12% of voters, new poll suggests”]

The news media has been referring to him as “new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins” (maybe they think lots of us somehow managed to miss the news entirely over the past week?), but he (of course) has all the power and responsibility being Prime Minister, and having been part of the Labour Party government for nearly six years, there’s no learning curve.

Despite being ready to go as soon the documents were signed, he nevertheless hasn’t announced any policy changes, though there will be some. Instead, he’s only said that dealing with the cost of living crisis will be his central focus.

I think that it’s obvious that some of the previously announced policies will be put aside. Journalists seem convinced the proposed merger of TVNZ and RNZ will be put on hold, and there are likely to be changes to the Three Waters programme that the hard right has been attacking relentlessly especiallu because it talks about “co-governance” between the Crown and Māori in dealing with of water/wastewater/stormwater. Some rightwingers have had a good time mischievously using that—or, rather, their cartoon version of it—to successfully rile up racists.

The thing about having a “new Prime Minister” is that he can change the agenda, removing unpopular things, pushing things that are more popular, and explaining things cynical rightwing politicians are deliberately misrepresenting. Being a new face gives him the opportunity to reset, something Jacinda couldn’t have done as easily, or perhaps at all.

She certainly could have dropped unpopular policies, but if she’d done that, rightwing politicians would’ve attacked her for doing it: She was in a no-win situation. Chris, on the other hand, can change pretty much anything because he’s in charge now, and the agenda is his to set. He’ll also be handling the traditional election year cabinet re-shuffle, so the team going into the election will be his own.

That’s one of the main reasons Labour is in a stronger position electorally now than it was before Jacinda resigned: It’s not just a new leader, it’s also a new team, and a new game.

Obviously, there’s plenty that can still go wrong. Next month, for example, the Reserve Bank governor may follow through on his threat to deliberately wreck the New Zealand economy by triggering a recession, though with inflation now stable, it seems less likely—or, at least, that’s what all sane and rational people hope.

There are also plenty of things that can go right, too, of course. With new leadership, new policies, and new energy, there’s currently a wind in Labour’s sails.

All of which is why Labour could well win this year’s election. It would very, very foolish to bet against them.

Related video – MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle reflects on the departure of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:


Roger Owen Green said...

For some reason, I thought she was stepping down on Feb 7.
Anyway, I thought she was marvelous.

Arthur Schenck said...

Easy mistake: She said "not later than February 7". That was to allow enough time for a successor to be selected. As I expected,a successor, Chris Hipkins, was selected at the first opportunity, Sunday, January 22. It was determined he was the only candidate on the previous Friday, January 20. So, the extended timeframe wasn't needed, and she left on Wednesday, the day after her final public duty.