Hipkins loses election but finds love in NZ campaign

NZ voters await final election outcomes

Six years after Jacindamania, and three years after a winning historic majority, New Zealand Labour’s star has crashed to earth.

The centre-left party will return to the dark days of opposition with a basement result in the 2023 election.

With 98 per cent of the preliminary vote counted, Labour was sitting on 26.8 per cent — within a few percentage points of their worst result in a century.

Leader Chris Hipkins — drafted in as prime minister following Jacinda Ardern’s shock resignation in January — put a brave face on the result in his concession speech on Saturday night from Lower Hutt, in northern Wellington.

“I want you to be proud of what we achieved over the last six years,” he told the Labour faithful.

“Despite governing through some of the biggest challenges our country has ever faced, we keep New Zealand moving forward, and we protected those who needed help the most.

Hipkins pointed to an improvement in child poverty statistics, reduced emissions, a historically significant public home-building program and consistently low unemployment as signature achievements.

However, beyond Ardern’s politics of kindness that made her a rock star for the left, this Labour government will be remembered above all for its stewardship during the pandemic.

“It hasn’t been easy. I honestly think that the Gods ran out of curveballs to throw at us,” he said.

“Terrorist attacks, volcanoes, cyclones and floods, and of course, the COVID-19 global pandemic and the global cost of living crisis that followed.

“Despite these huge forces against us, through it all, we made a difference. We saved lives and recorded the lowest number of COVID deaths in the developed world.”

In historic terms, Hipkins’ defeat was inevitable.

Each of last seven leaders to take on the prime ministership mid-term were not elected at the subsequent election; Hipkins was the eighth.

New Zealand’s flat economy also augured poorly for Labour’s chances, with the soaring cost of living registering as Kiwis’ top issue, and one the government could not fix.

Then just as Hipkins finished his speech, he began to thank his family, his voice quavering, he threw a curveball to New Zealanders.

“Being prime minister is not the only special thing that has happened for me this year,” he said.

“There is someone else special that I want to thank tonight, someone that most of you won’t know and that is my partner Toni.

“I want to thank you for being with me every step of the way over the last few months as we have gone through this campaign.”

Until the election night revelation, it was not known that prime minister – understood to be a bachelor, with two children from a previous marriage – was partnered.

“Finally, to my kids who have sacrificed more than anyone will ever know … they’re going to be happy that they’re going to get to spend a bit more time with their dad now,” he concluded.

Hipkins did not offer insight on his future as leader, saying instead it was a time to “reflect”.

Labour’s caucus, which was 65-strong after the last election, will shrink to approximately 34 MPs, with final results due on November 3.

“When the tide comes in big it almost invariably goes out big as well. That is the nature of politics,” he said.

“But the Labour Party is still here. We’re not going anywhere. And we will get up again like we have many times before.”


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