Labour keeps Chris Hipkins as Leader, promises to revisit policies

“Everything, including tax policies, will be back on the table”- Labour Leader Chris Hipkins with his Deputy Carmel Sepuloni at the Labour Party Meet in Upper Hutt on November 7, 2023 (Screen Grab)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, November 7, 2023

Chris Hipkins gets what is known as the worst job in the world: Leader of the Opposition.

The Labour Party Caucus met in Upper Hutt this morning (November 7) and reposed its faith in him as the Leader. Recriminations and attribution of blame for the Party’s dismal performance in the general election held on October 14, 2023 will come later after a probe.

Members of the Caucus chose Mr Hipkins through a secret ballot.

“We have a big job ahead in the Opposition to hold the government (and the Coalition Partners) to account on various promises made during the election campaign,” Mr Hipkins told his colleagues.

It would be ironic when the probe into the drubbing that the Party took in the election will certainly contain the promises that Labour did not keep during its six-year regime.

A damaging defeat

New Zealanders displayed their anger in no uncertain terms by voting out many sitting MPs from their constituencies which were considered a haven for Labour. In Auckland, Mt Roskill and New Lynn constituencies fell out of Labour for the first time since their formation, while in Mt Albert, another Labour seat since its inception in 1946, its candidate Helen White has a slender margin of 20 votes. National’s Melissa Lee is reported to have filed for a judicial recount and hence the fate of this seat also hangs in balance.

Mr Hipkins could not hide his tears while conceding defeat on the election night but today, he appeared reconciled to reality and somewhat bold.

He said that he was looking forward to the 2026 general election with refreshed policies.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us. We (Hipkins and Carmel Sepuloni) have been in the roles of Leader and Deputy Leader only for nine months and hence 2023 election was very tough,” he said.

Mr Hipkins said that listening to the communities and reconnecting with them will be among the priorities for Labour from hereon.

Source: Labour Party Facebook Page

Labour has 34 seats in the next Parliament, down from 65 seats that it won in 2020. Andrew Little has announced his retirement from politics, while others would stay on, for a time at least. Kelvin Davis stepped down from the post of Deputy Leader, replaced by Carmel Sepuloni.

Will Labour and its Leader revisit some of their abandoned policies?

Mr Hipkins would not rule out Capital Gains Tax or other issues relating to taxation when he said that ‘everything will come back to the table.’

“We need to take stock, go back, refresh. I don’t think that tax was the one issue that defined the outcome of this election, I think there were a range of issues,” he said.

Community disconnect

The Jacinda Ardern government (October 2017 to January 2023), having won an unheard-of absolute majority in the general election held on October 17, 2020, became too drenched in disconnected and divisive politics to notice the growing dissent. Signals of discontent over prolonged lockdowns, the vaccination policy, growing retail crime, long wait for medical treatment and the large dropout from the school system were all beginning to spell the doomsday.

Labour saw its defeat coming but like the tsunami, could not stop it.

As we have seen here and elsewhere, politics does strange things to people and pinnacles of power worsen relationships and responsiveness.

This was demonstrated during the waning years of Ms Ardern’s regime and Mr Hipkins, who was Prime Minister for about nine months, bore the brunt of public fury.

Labour must now pause and reflect on its policies, programmes and performance and reinvent itself over the next three years before facing the people.

Commentators have said that the Nation stands divided and that the average New Zealander is concerned over the freedom of speech, and rising inequality. There were open challenges to the government on its Co-Governance proposal whether too much was being handed out to too few and whether New Zealand was slipping towards anarchy. The latter saw the small voice of protest in the precincts of Parliament breaking into a major standoff with violence and threats. The fact it was contained was no credit to the government but to the New Zealand Police.

There are then other dividing factors: The left-wing hinges on taxing the rich and benefiting the poor, the more common philosophies of state-owned capitalism and stakeholder capitalism and a host of policies and approaches.

Labour must introspect and take corrective action. Such self-examination is imperative if Labour has to resurrect itself and be a strong opposition in the next Parliament.

The Making of a Leader

Massey University Senior Lecturer (School of Management) Suze Wilson says that no leader will be perfect, but each character or personality flaw impedes their capacity for wise judgment and dealing with the demands of their role.

“ A wise leader, therefore, is one who has deep and accurate insight into their personal foibles and has strategies to mitigate those tendencies. Political leaders will obviously seek to present their policies, parties and themselves in a positive light, something known as ‘impression management.’ This is where critical questioning and fact-checking by journalists and experts can play a vital role,” she said in a recent article on The Conversation.

She said that gauging a leader’s true personality or character is more difficult.

“We first need to be aware that our impressions and evaluations of leaders are not entirely driven by reason or logic. Secondly, we can look for recurring patterns of behaviour in different situations over time. We should pay particular heed to behaviour under pressure when it becomes more difficult to “mask” true feelings and motives. Thirdly, we can consider the values that underpin a leader’s policies, who benefits from them, and what messages these convey to the community at large. In the long run, a leader’s results bear consideration,” she said.

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