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John MacDonald: Don't underestimate Mr Fix-It

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Jan 2023, 12:17pm

John MacDonald: Don't underestimate Mr Fix-It

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Jan 2023, 12:17pm

This time last week I reckon even die-hard Labour supporters would have been starting to accept that Labour was looking like being dog tucker in the election later this year.

I don’t know how many times I had to remind myself that the party was only in its second term of government because, for quite a while now, it’s looked like a government nearing the end of its third term. Worn out and overly familiar.

Which was probably inevitable given the last few years we’ve been through and how, for much of that time, the Prime Minister and other ministers were on one of the highest rating TV shows day-in, day-out - the old one o’clock COVID briefings.

And, as it turned out last week, Jacinda Ardern wasn’t just “looking” worn out. She is worn out and is stepping down.

And yesterday, Chris Hipkins was confirmed as the new leader of the Labour Party and will be sworn-in as Prime Minister on Wednesday, with Carmel Sepuloni Deputy Prime Minister.

Straight away, Hipkins was talking about taking what he’s calling a "bread and butter" approach to fighting inflation. Or, as he’s putting it, the “inflation pandemic”. Which is, obviously, going to be Labour’s label for the cost of living crisis.

Which can be interpreted two ways. Either as just another one of these slogans that get thrown around all the time. Or another way of Labour saying that the cost of living crisis isn’t its fault - just like the COVID pandemic wasn’t its fault.

And that’s why I think Hipkins is talking that way. He was on Newstalk ZB this morning saying that inflation is a global thing, just like COVID is a global thing.

“Not our fault - but we’re here to help”. That’s the message that’s been coming through since he was confirmed as leader yesterday afternoon.

Although, if you heard Phil O’Reilly who used to run Business NZ on Newstalk ZB this morning, you will have heard him say that the Government isn’t completely innocent and some its spending is playing a part in inflation going northwards.

Which highlights to me the tricky balancing act Chris Hipkins has to deal with. For starters, he’s saying that he wants to look at policies and reforms that might not be essential to help deal with the inflation issue.

The public media merger and Three Waters are two that people are already saying should be taken off the table. And yes, that would mean less spending by the Government on one side of the ledger.

But, if Hipkins is true to his word, and the Government is going to help those struggling most in the current economic environment - I see that as a neon sign on top of the Beehive saying “more government spending on the way”.

Another thing Phil O’Reilly mentioned this morning was immigration and that if Labour wants to get business back on side it’s going to have to make it easier to get workers here from overseas sooner rather than later.

But with the election just under nine months away - and the time for the Government to make serious policy changes even shorter than that - Hipkins has a serious sell-job on his hands if he’s going to have any hope in hell of making sure he’s Prime Minister after October 14.

But I reckon he’s got a much better chance of doing that than Jacinda Ardern would have if she’d decided to stick around.

The other week, I was passing through Geraldine, in South Canterbury. I saw a ute on the side of the road with a sticker that looked like the old COVID signs.

But when I looked closer at it, I saw that it said “Ardern-23. Stop the virus”. And this is the head of steam that the former Labour leader would’ve been dealing with. Which, until late last week, probably had the most die-hard Labour supporters coming around to the fact that a third term in government for their party was looking very unlikely.

But Hipkins is not Ardern. Yes, as a lot of people have been pointing out, he has been a significant part of the Ardern regime. But he’s also a part of the Ardern regime that people seemed to have had a lot of time for. He’s become known as Mr Fix-It, hasn’t he? And people like that.

He’s also shown that he can laugh at himself a bit. And people love that. They loved that about John Key - and they love that about Chris Hipkins.

Which is why I think that with him as leader, Labour has a much better chance of winning the election than it did this time last week.

It’s not going to be easy for Labour by any means. But I reckon it’s on to a potential winner with Hipkins.

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