31 Jul 2023

Power Play: Labour list about avoiding unnecessary political drama

6:31 pm on 31 July 2023
Labour Party president Jill Day and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announce the Labour list for election 2023

Labour Party president Jill Day and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announce the Labour list for election 2023 Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Labour's new list rankings are all about avoiding any unnecessary political drama just a few short months out from the election, rather than signalling any great party refresh.

Senior MPs, the Speaker of the House and placeholders like whips should all be assured of a return to Parliament with the 2023 list released on Monday, as Labour continues to slip in the public opinion polls.

With such a large caucus as a result of the 2020 landslide, it now faces the prospect of losing 20 or so sitting MPs - always a potential recipe for disaster for those who find themselves with little to lose, and more incentive to act out.

With a rolling maul of damaging ministerial controversies, the last thing leader and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins needs is any rogue MPs spilling party secrets or undermining the government in any way. He was not going to "get into that sort of speculation" when asked how many MPs the party could lose, insisting Labour could boost its support from what's currently reflected in the polls, with the goal of getting "as many votes as possible so we get as many people in Parliament as possible".

"Our campaign is just starting to pick up momentum," he said.

And a message from Hipkins to any candidates who may feel disgruntled with the final list rankings: "I'm absolutely confident based on the feedback we've had that everybody knows what their list position is and that everybody is going to be focused on securing a win in the forthcoming election".

A clear signal, too, for former Cabinet minister Michael Wood, who resigned over his failure to manage conflicts of interest, that he will have to win his Mt Roskill seat to ensure re-election, ending up at number 45 on the list.

The highest ranked newcomer is Georgie Dansey at number 31, with Hipkins not pushing back when asked if the high list ranking was payback for running in the Hamilton West by-election, where she was trounced by National's Tama Potaka.

He said they did consider "people's history of candidacy" when making decisions about where someone should end up on the list and thought Dansey "flew the flag [for Labour] very proudly and very positively in the by-election".

The benefit of having such a large caucus becomes a challenge come list ranking time, even with a number of departures throughout this term, including of course Dame Jacinda Ardern - made trickier with senior MPs going list only this election, like Grant Robertson and Speaker Adrian Rurawhe. This leaves a number of sitting MPs in real trouble, those with low list rankings and standing in seats that will be a long shot to win; they include Anna Lorck, Angie Warren-Clark, Liz Craig and Sarah Pallett.

Ensuring diversity and "making sure that [Labour is] reflective of the New Zealand population" were part of the reason Willow Jean Prime and Jo Luxton - both of Māori descent - ended up in the top 20 ahead of other ministers like Duncan Webb, Deborah Russell and Rachel Brooking.

"With Kiri Allan not being on the list, Nanaia Mahuta also not being on the list, I think it's important that we make sure that the list continues to reflect the New Zealand population," Hipkins said.

In saying that, he did not want to take anything away from Prime or Luxton, both of whom he said were "making an enormous contribution to our government, they're absolutely worthy of the elevation".

Allan is stepping away from politics at the election after being charged over last week's car crash and Mahuta is going electorate only; standing in her Hauraki-Waikato seat she has held since 2008.

Another change-up this past week - Tāmati Coffey changing his mind about retiring after Allan's decision not to stand in the East Coast seat in October. He was the only Labour incumbent to lose his seat in the 2020 red wave, and Waiariki the only Māori electorate seat flipped from Labour to the Māori Party. In March he announced he would stand down at the 2023 election, wanting to focus his energy on his two young children.

But now he says his whānau has given him the green light to stand in the East Coast seat, saying the people there "need a strong, experienced MP who can hit the ground running and provide strong representation in Parliament". Coffey told Morning Report he was "tapped on the shoulder" and then had to ask himself "whether or not [he] had more gas in the tank".

"I am willing to do it, I do think that Labour should be the government after October the 14th, and so I'm putting my shoulder to the wheel," he said.

Labour President Jill Day said the approach was not made by the party leadership: "He did reach out to us early on and said that he was interested".

"It's possible that colleagues within the party did ... it wasn't from us as leaders, he approached us.

"But it's possible that his peers said to him, you should consider this, and we absolutely support people doing that," Day said.

Hipkins said he was "really pleased" Coffey would give it another go, describing him as "an incredibly strong candidate". However, he was also asked if voters should put their faith in a candidate who had previously made it clear he had had enough of being an MP and of being at Parliament.

"I can tell you having had a number of conversations with Tāmati in the last week or so, the tank is certainly not empty - he's running on all cylinders," he said.

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