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Changing leader a big gamble to try to re-energise Labour campaign

Opinion Piece

A desperate gamble but one they had to take ... that's the outcome of a dramatic day in New Zealand politics in which Labour replaced the embattled Andrew Little with Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis as her deputy.

All the conventional wisdom says it is disastrous to make a change like this so close to polling day, just seven weeks out. Some will point to what happened in 1990 when Mike Moore replaced Geoffrey Palmer, and Jim Bolger won in a landslide.

But there are differences this time. Labour was steadily falling in the polls and in Ardern it has a replacement who could energise young people to vote as well as lure back some who have left.

Preferred prime minister polls show she is popular, but she now has the massive task of taking on what she herself described as the worst job in the world.

Labour will promote her as a fresh new face and contrast that with the stolid Bill English, but she has to show depth quickly . . . although studies have shown that New Zealanders’ votes are not hugely swayed by who leads a party, with possible exceptions in Helen Clark and John Key.

To do that she needs much more than the new billboards Labour is hurriedly preparing, and she has wisely given herself 72 hours to review election policies.

At 37 she is the youngest ever leader of the party, which has now had five leadership changes in the past nine years.

The desperate gamble could pay off. All is far from lost for Labour as the three main Opposition parties between them are polling at about 50 percent, above National — although whether they could form a coherent coalition government is a different matter.

Labour has also been fighting with the Greens for the same demographic. In the latest polls they just seemed to swap voters.

Can Ardern and Davis reverse that trend by tacking more to the centre, appealing to former Labour voters they have lost to National and New Zealand First?

One final thought from yesterday is that Andrew Little showed himself as the ultimate party man. He leaves with his dignity intact and his mana high.