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Labour's caucus meeting 'pretty rough', party transitioning into 'formidable opposition' - Hipkins

Oct 18, 2023

The Labour Party will take time to reflect on its poor election showing before making any leadership decisions, leader Chris Hipkins says.

The party received 26 percent of the vote in the preliminary results over the weekend, halving the number of its MPs in Parliament and ousting them from government.

On Tuesday, Hipkins retained the leadership.

Asked if he was confident he would stay on as leader, Hipkins told Morning Report he was clear that decision would not be rushed.

"We have to support the new government to transition in and we've got to continue to execute our responsibilities as the caretaker government while they figure out what the shape of that new government is and we will do that..."

And transition into a "good, formidable opposition".

Hipkins said there was also an opportunity for Labour to reflect and work out where to go from here.

It was important for the party to work out why people who supported the party in 2020 did not this year, he said.

"We'll spend plenty of time digesting the result and understanding that but it's clear from the end of 2021, we saw our support numbers drop quite significantly and nothing that we do in the two years that followed really rebuilt those numbers."

Asked if this result was a hangover from Covid, Hipkins said: "We certainly lost a lot of support in Auckland and we saw the ultimate end result of that on Saturday night. We lost a lot of support in Auckland during that last lockdown period and we haven't regained it back."

But there were other complex reasons for this, he said.

On Tuesday, Labour's new caucus met.

"I think everybody will understand that it was pretty rough.

"We took the time in the morning to acknowledge the contributions of people who have given at least three years, in same cases six years of their lives to serving people and we thanked them for that and acknowledged the contributions they'd made and that's pretty tough."

Meanwhile, senior Labour MP Andrew Little has announced that he will retire from politics.

Hipkins himself would be remaining an MP the full three-year term. But was he worried about others leaving?

"There'll be a number of people who are reflecting on what the result means for them and where their heart sits now and I think they just deserve the space to be able to do that," Hipkins said.

He was confident Labour had "the bones of a very formidable opposition amongst our team".

Outgoing MP Andrew Little told Morning Report he was leaving because he was not the face of the future.

"We're freshly in opposition, we've had the last two elections, 2017 and 2020 we had pretty incredible intake of new talent.

"Now freshly in opposition it's important for the party to think not just about it's time in opposition, but the makeup of its next government, and so focusing on the faces of the future. I'm not the face of the future but there are others who would be.

"So stepping aside now means at least one more MP gets to come back, continue their development, continue to learn their skills and be part of that future."

Political parties were dynamic and needed to refresh and renew, he said.

"I totally reject the idea that Labour in the last six years has kind of lost its way, lost its priorities. The priority for Labour in the last six years was always putting people first, it was about lifting wages and incomes."

Labour was a party striving to represent all people of New Zealand, Little said.

Little stood down as Labour leader ahead of the 2017 election, making way for Jacinda Ardern who went on to win.

He said he knew at the time it was the right move and he was proven correct.

"She just had an extraordinary set of talents ... I was confident that even at that late stage she could excite the party and the electorate and get them behind us.

"That proved to be correct. I was confident in that judgement at the time that I made it and I think the decision was the correct one."

The Treaty of Waitangi negotiations ministerial portfolio was the one that had taught and changed him the most, he said.

"I think that's an extraordinary portfolio to have. You get to learn a history of New Zealand that is not widely known - hopefully will be better known now that we're teaching history in schools - you meet some just extraordinary people who have carried a burden of grief for so long and are looking for a way to see that redressed.

"But also, being part of the journey of reconciliation and ultimately of peace for New Zealand is a very special place to be and I will always cherish the opportunity I've had to serve in that role."

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