The move to make Jacinda Ardern leader seems to have been prompted by a realisation within Labour not so much that the party might not win the election but that it was in a more desperate situation because recent polls showed that as a Parliamentary force it was in danger of being overtaken by either the Greens or NZ First.
That situation was made worse by Andrew Little’s admission on Monday that he had considered resigning and that 24% was not enough for Labour to form a Government.
However, ultimately it appears that the decision by Little to resign was very much his own.
MPs had begun ringing around over the weekend as the news of their own internal poll showing the party on 23% began to spread.
No –one is claiming any credit for presenting Little with an ultimatum, but it seems that there had been a caucus headcount on Monday night. That was co-ordinated by members of the Parliamentary front bench.
In retrospect, the enigmatic comment on Monday by Te Atatu MP, Phil Twyford that he supported the leader of the Labour Party “as long as he is the leader of the Labour Party” was a clue to what was going on.
Twyford is said to have been one of the key players in the caucus headcount.
MPs who we now know were involved in that headcount told POLITIK on Monday night that though things were desperate they doubted there would be a vote on the leadership yesterday.
Instead more poll pressure would be needed before a change could be made. Little was not saying what he would do.
Even close friends who spoke to him on Monday said they didn’t know whether he would resign.
It wasn’t clear that he would until he started to cancel regular media appearances yesterday morning.
In some ways, the way he played his final cards so close to his chest was a symptom of the bigger problem the caucus, and the front bench, in particular, had with him and that was his propensity to act alone.
The immediate consequence of the leadership change is to be a review of Labour policy.
That will include an already-planned proposal for free tertiary education, and it could well extend to a re-introduction of the capital gains tax policy that the party had at the last election but which Little scrapped when he became the leader.
Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson was last night playing that sort of speculation down.
“The core issues are going to stay the same,” he told POLITIK.
“But there are different ways of approaching them and dealing with them.”
Political strategists were unsure exactly what the move would mean for Labour over the course of the election.
One pollster said he expected the party would get a bounce in the polls — but some leadership changes had not achieved that.
Within the National Party the immediate reaction was to advise the Prime Minister and other MPs to treat Ardern with respect.
National fears that any attacks on Ardern, a relentlessly positive person, could be seen as bullying.
But there will also be pressure on Bill English to up his own campaign now.
It was thought within National that his relatively uncharismatic personality would not be a problem against the equally uncharismatic Andrew Little.
Advisors believe his best chance to “win” against Ardern will be in televised debates where he can display his authority and command of Government business.
At this stage, though they are plainly worried, National Party officials and Beehive staff believe that Ardern’s biggest impact may be to siphon some votes off the Greens and possibly New Zealand First.
Whether she will win over National votes is less clear.
But during the Mt Albert by-election earlier this year there was some evidence that she picked up votes in National voting parts of the electorate.
She is certainly seen within the party as someone who is more centrist and on the left-wing blog site, “The Standard”, there was criticism of the move to replace Little with her.
The blog’s convenor, Lynn Prentice, wrote: “I am deeply suspicious about the timing and abrupt nature that it isn’t a coincidental move. It looks to me like a deliberate roll via whisper campaign and a general lack of support in a caucus. I’ve had rumours of a move by the conservatives and ambitious in the caucus to do this for a while. So I’m going to party vote Green again.”
The change at this stage on the eve of the election campaign presents some practical problems.
There is the issue of whether the party will need to change its list which currently has Andrew Little as Number One and does not have Kelvin Davis on it at all.
The party places its leader and deputy leader in one and two positions on the list but it is thought Davis may not wish to be on the list because he wants to focus the minds of his Te Tai Tokerau voters on electing him again as the electorate MP thus not allowing the Mana Party’s Hone Harawira back to Parliament.
And in what potentially may prove to be significant, Maori Party President Tuku Morgan, is calling on Ardern and Davis to work with them.
“Māori people throughout the country are telling me they want our party to work with Labour if it’s in a position to form a Government after September 23,” said Morgan.
“We’ve always said we’d work with both sides, blue or red, but Andrew Little killed off any hope of that happening when he closed the door on us.
“We’re hoping Jacinda and Kelvin won’t be as closed minded and that they’ll agree to work with kaupapa “
The Labour Party organisation will have to replace its billboards and scrap some video productions that have been made for the campaign.
Party Secretary general, Andrew Kirton, says the party can make the changes to the billboards without affecting campaign spending limits.
But those are minor matters; overall the reaction within the caucus was positive.
One senior Labour MP summed it all up by saying that for the first time in ages he felt hope for the party.
While Labour’s constitution allows for a review of the leadership after an election, Ardern would have to spectacularly fail for her to lose the leadership then.
Ultimately this has made the election more difficult for National to win. Even if they still do manage to form the next Government the fact that they will have had to fight to do it will be a victory for Ardern.