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Corin Dann Interviews Chris Hipkins

Sunday 25 August, 2013

Labour MPs want leadership process that results in unified party

Labour MP and party whip Chris Hipkins told TV One’s Q+A programme that MPs want a leader who everyone can pull behind and bring about a change in government.

“I think that what we want is unity, and so we want to achieve, through this process, an outcome where whoever the leader is at the end of it, can pull everyone in behind them and get the party in behind them and can really take it to the National Government. Because, you know, what I get on the street from New Zealanders is that they are crying out for an alternative,” Mr Hipkins says.

A Colmar Brunton snap poll on TV One’s Q+A programme shows David Cunliffe to be the early favourite for the leadership of the Labour Party.

The telephone poll of 517 people conducted on Friday and Saturday asked “Regardless of whether you support the Labour Party, which of the following MPs do you think would do the best job leading Labour into the next general election? Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe, Andrew Little, Jacinda Ardern, or Shane Jones.”

Mr Cunliffe was the clear favourite on 29 per cent, followed by Ms Ardern on 15 per cent, Mr Jones on 11 per cent, Mr Robertson on 10 per cent and Mr Little on 9 per cent. Both Ms Ardern and Mr Little have ruled themselves out of contention. The other three MPs have not yet announced if they will run for the Labour leadership.

Mr Hipkins says he has stressed the importance of running a dignified race.
“I’ve stressed to all of them the importance of conducting this process with dignity. It’s absolutely acceptable for any of the candidates who aspire to the leadership to go out there and say why they think they should be the leader, and they should do that in a way that doesn’t disparage any of the others, because at the end of this process, we all are going to have to work together. And I have absolute confidence in all of my colleagues that that’s the way they’re going to conduct this election,” Mr Hipkins says.

If two or more MPs put themselves forward for nomination, then the Labour Party’s new electoral process gets triggered, meaning that instead of caucus electing a new leader, it will only get a 40 per cent say in the process, party members will also get 40 per cent and the unions 20 per cent of the vote. The election will use a single round preferential voting system where members rank their preferred candidates.

However, the deputy leader will still be elected by caucus.

Nominations for the Labour leadership close at 10pm on Monday, August 26, with a list of nominees announced on Tuesday.

Q+A, 11-midday Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz

Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA


Corin Dann Interviews Chris Hipkins

Chris, thank you very much for joining us. I’ve got to ask you first what do you make of those poll results? David Cunliffe is well out in front. Is that a surprise to you?

CHRIS HIPKINS - Labour Party Whip
First of all, I think right from the get-go, can we just take a moment to acknowledge David Shearer and his contribution over the last 20 months? It’s been a very difficult time for Labour. I think David’s handled himself with a lot of integrity, and I think that the decision that he has made was a very selfless one, and I want to acknowledge him for that. In terms of the poll results that you just mentioned, you know, we’re just getting underway with this competition yet. You know, Grant Robertson has been the deputy leader to David Shearer, so, to some extent, will have been in his shadow. David Cunliffe has been on the back bench, so he wouldn’t have had as much of an opportunity to put forward his views on things as he might otherwise have had. So they’ve got an opportunity over the next few weeks. If there is going to be a competition, there will be an opportunity over the next few weeks for them to articulate their vision and to give the public and the members an opportunity to get to know them.

CORIN Does the caucus want a contest?

CHRIS Um, look, I think that’s really something that I’m sure all of the prospective candidates are working through at the moment. I went to a number of them on Thursday and encouraged them over the weekend to take some time and talk to each other. Because at the end of this, if there is a contest, they are all incredibly important members of our team, and we’re going to need them all to work together and all pull in whoever comes out of this process as the leader.

CORIN But do they want a contest?

CHRIS Um, I think that what we want is unity, and so we want to achieve, through this process, an outcome where whoever the leader is at the end of it, can pull everyone in behind them and get the party in behind them and can really take it to the National Government. Because, you know, what I get on the street from New Zealanders is that they are crying out for an alternative. You know, they are looking around. They’re saying, ‘Ok, look, we’ve had enough of this National Government. We do want to see a credible alternative with Labour.’ And they want to make sure that out of this process, we get someone who we unite behind.

CORIN Ok, but there is a perception, and certainly the party has made it very clear over the last few days, that it wants a contest. I just want to know whether there’s a feeling amongst the caucus, whether they do.

CHRIS Look, I think the caucus’ view, certainly, is that we want a process that results in a unifying of the party. And, you know, let’s not pre-empt that. Ultimately, you know, people are going to be talking to each other. You know, it depends who throws their hat in the ring. At this point, we don’t know. Everyone, I think, will be thinking very carefully.

CORIN Well, that’s a good point, because, I mean, David Cunliffe has obviously had a couple of goes, and the second one at the conference stirred up a lot of emotion. You yourself criticised him publicly for effectively running a coup against David Shearer. Can you work under David Cunliffe?

CHRIS Absolutely. Look, David Cunliffe and I have buried our differences some time ago. Um, if he becomes the leader of the Labour Party, he will have my full support. Whoever comes out of this as the leader of the party will have my full support, because we ultimately need to get behind whoever is the leader and make sure that we’re focused on being a credible alternative government.

CORIN Can you just explain to New Zealanders, though? David Cunliffe’s the front runner in the polls there with Kiwis. Why is it that there’s this perception that he is disliked in caucus? Why is that there?

CHRIS Oh, look, you know, I don’t think that’s an issue. I think the issue here is we’ve got to find someone who can enjoy the confidence of the caucus and the party membership, and that’s the process that we’re going through now. Once that person-

CORIN But is he disliked or not?

CHRIS If it is David Cunliffe, I know that the caucus will get behind him. I know that the caucus are resolved to get behind whoever comes out of this process as the party leader.

CORIN But is that a fair criticism of David Cunliffe that does the rounds? You know that. The ABC Club - Anyone But Cunliffe. All that stuff. New Zealanders need to know now what’s going on.

CHRIS Look, the important thing out of this is that we have a democratic process. Everyone’s going to get a vote. I’ll get a vote. Every other member of the caucus will get a vote. But at the end of it, we will unify behind whoever comes out of it as the party leader.

CORIN Would you rather see a contest with Shane Jones in it as well?

CHRIS Oh, look, it’s going to be up to the individual candidates to decide whether they want to put their names forward. I’m not going to pre-empt that. And I’m sure that they’re talking to each other, and I hope that they are talking to each other. Because at the end of it, whether it’s Grant Robertson, David Cunliffe, Shane Jones. I saw Jacinda and Andrew Little in the mix there. These are all incredibly talented people who are real assets to the Labour Party, and they will all need to work together to support whomever comes out of this process as the leader, because we’re going to want them all to members of a cabinet in a future Labour Government and be really active players in making and helping us to get there.

CORIN Are you worried that those potential caucus divisions could come out in the mix in a battle on the hustings? That even with a code of conduct, you might start to lay bare some of those riffs to the NZ public?

CHRIS No. I’ve spoken to all my colleagues in the last week or the last few days, really, since David Shearer resigned, and I’ve stressed to all of them the importance of conducting this process with dignity. It’s absolutely acceptable for any of the candidates who aspire to the leadership to go out there and say why they think they should be the leader, and they should do that in a way that doesn’t disparage any of the others, because at the end of this process, we all are going to have to work together. And I have absolute confidence in all of my colleagues that that’s the way they’re going to conduct this election.

CORIN But we’ve seen it. US primary elections is a classic example. They attack each other. That’s part of the nature of politics. Surely they should be able to point out to the public failings, they believe, in the other candidates?

CHRIS I think it’s a little bit different. In a US primary race, someone wins and then the others all fade off into the background. In a Westminster Parliamentary system, that’s not the way it works. You know, at the end of it, we’re still all there.

CORIN So are we even going to get a real contest? Because you guys are going to be pulling your punches.

CHRIS Well, look, to some extent, it’s going to depend on what the prospective candidates do. You know, if they talk to each other and they reach some arrangements, and they will agree amongst themselves some rules for how they want to conduct this. So let’s just let that process run its course. I’m absolutely convinced that every one of them could lead the party. Every one of them shares the values that I share in terms of the Labour Party’s values. And what we’re going to go through now is a process of working out who the best person is to unify us all and bring us all into line so that we can get out there and campaign to win the next election.

CORIN Tell us about the deputy process, because that could be crucial. Names like Jacinda Ardern, Andrew Little, Shane Jones as possible deputies. How does the caucus approach that? Because you have the final say on that, but do you expect candidates to sort of signal who a possible deputy would be beforehand?

CHRIS Look, that’s ultimately up to the candidates. The caucus will elect a new leader. Of course, the incoming leader will have a significant say on that. I think it’s pretty unlikely that the caucus would elect a deputy leader that the new leader wasn’t able to work with or didn’t support. So the new leader will have a significant say in that. But I suspect that that’s an opportunity for the new leader to actually generate some unity within the team. So if they want to reach out to someone from a group of people who may not have necessarily supported them in order to bring people together. If you look at Bill English and John Key and various other things, that’s been the way other parties have done those things in the past. And at the end of this process, we have to come together. The thing that will kill us as a party is if we don’t come together.

CORIN Chris Hipkins, Labour Party Whip, thank you very much for your time. We do appreciate you coming on Q+A.

CHRIS Thank you.

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