Francesca Rudkin: Will Prime Minister Chris Hipkins save Labour's chances at the next election?

Francesca Rudkin: Will Prime Minister Chris Hipkins save Labour's chances at the next election?

Updated: 9 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, 12 seconds ago

So we will get confirmation of our new Prime Minister today.

It’s still a bit surreal.

Normally it’s said the worse job in politics is being leader of the opposition, although taking over leadership of the Labour Government and the role of Prime Minister doesn’t look like much fun either.

Nine months out from an election the party is slipping in the polls, the Government is looking to pass contentious legislation, and hasn’t made much progress on policies that are in place. While Jacinda Ardern may have made the right call stepping down, she is a hard act to follow.

So what needs to happen now for Labour to be a realistic contender at the next election?

The most important thing to do at a bombshell moment like this is to show unity. They have done this by selecting a new leader in a decisive manner.

There is no perfect candidate, but there was an obvious one after Grant Robertson took himself out of the mix. Chris Hipkins can do the job, he can communicate, he can talk to people, he is relatable, and he can have a laugh at himself. He is the Mr-Fix-it Minister, the Minister for Everything, so can handle the work load. He comes across as down to earth, practical and a no-nonsense kind of guy, a nice antidote to the current perception Labour is too “woke”. But most importantly he has the experience to step into the role today.

How he sets himself apart from his predecessor is important too. Ardern being out of the picture may be a blessing for Labour, an opportunity to restart and refresh. But Hipkins needs to prove from the minute he officially takes on the role this afternoon that he’s intent on dealing with the serious issues within our health and education systems, crime and policing, and the rising cost of living. These are the issues that impact on New Zealanders every day and the government needs to be seen to be acting on them now. No more reviews.

The best way for Hipkins to show he’s focused on what matters to New Zealanders, and to illustrate a different style of leadership from his predecessor, will be to get rid of more ideological and unpopular policies, like the TVNZ and RNZ merger, or the proposed income insurance scheme.

Many would like to see Three Waters go - but I don’t think anyone can stop that juggernaut.

So for the next nine months it comes down to leadership skills, relatability, priorities that resonate with New Zealanders, and action.

When it comes to today, and the week ahead, Hipkins must prove he is match fit and ready to start immediately. He needs to show he’s ready to step up and to be held accountable. Returning to Mike Hosking Breakfast would be a good place to start. First impressions are important, and he knows that from this point on everything that comes out of his mouth is giving New Zealanders a reason to stay with Labour, return to Labour, or at least consider them as an option on October 14th.

Yip, there’s a bit riding on this. Good luck to him.