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Helen White maintains she is ‘really, really proud’ of her result. (Image: Joel MacManus, Design Archi Banal)
Helen White maintains she is ‘really, really proud’ of her result. (Image: Joel MacManus, Design Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 18, 2023

Pissed off and possibly delusional: Labour MPs return in testy day at parliament

Helen White maintains she is ‘really, really proud’ of her result. (Image: Joel MacManus, Design Archi Banal)
Helen White maintains she is ‘really, really proud’ of her result. (Image: Joel MacManus, Design Archi Banal)

Labour MPs gathered at parliament for the first time since a bruising election day defeat. No wonder some of them seemed so irritable.

With the National Party MPs were locked away from the media all day, the focus of the parliamentary press was on the Labour caucus room. As its MPs arrived ahead of their 11am meeting, there was obvious tension. 

Helen White was the first to arrive, and was asked whether she was embarrassed about her results in the Mt Albert electorate. She insisted she was “really, really proud” of her result.

“What a ridiculous question, I didn’t do badly, I did really, really well,” she insisted. “I think we punched above our weight,” she said, referring to a campaign which delivered a 103 vote margin (before special votes) after winning by 21,246 in the same seat last election. 

Then she negged Newshub political reporter Amelia Wade with a move straight out of the pickup artist playbook: “Sorry, I’ve forgotten your name,” she said. It was not necessary at all to use her name. 

Across the Hallway, Kieran McAnulty was making it very, very, very clear that he still supported Chris Hipkins and will definitely, definitely, definitely not run for leader. 

“I think he’s got the goods,” he said in his Wairarapa drawl. “He should stay on for the whole [term], and if he does I’ll back him. He’s a good bloke and he’s worked hard.”

Has McAnulty ever thought about being leader? “Nah.” Does he think he has what it takes to be leader? “Probably not.” What if other people ask him to run, would it be hard to say no then? “Nah, it’d be easy.”

Chris Hipkins arrived with a whole posse in tow, flanked by his senior MPs Megan Woods, Carmel Sepuloni and Kelvin Davis. Hipkins started by patting himself on the back for the new inflation figures (down to 5.6%), and confirmed he was going to stick around parliament for a while. “I’m not done with politics,” he said, though he wouldn’t say whether he would stay on as leader. 

Finally, he gave the people what they really wanted: A beautiful little nugget of gossip about his love life with the mysterious Toni.

Chris Hipkins speaks to media before caucus

“Toni is a very special woman. Just to be clear, that’s Toni with an ‘I’ – I didn’t quite mean to trigger that set of rumours on Saturday,” he laughed. “We met some time ago and our lives sort of went in different directions. There was quite a period that we didn’t have any contact with each other, and then we got back in touch this year. It’s been a highlight of the year.”

Facing the media crush, Grant Robertson was forced to deny his own leadership ambitions for the millionth time. “We’ve really been round the block on this many, many times: No.”

He wouldn’t commit to running as an MP again in 2026, saying he was focused on preparing the party for opposition and would take decisions in stages over the next few months. “I’m definitely tired. But what the Labour party stands for really matters to me,” he said. No one seemed quite sure why the election went so poorly. The party is launching a review into how it campaigned and what it campaigned on. “There is never one policy that decides an election,” Robertson said. 

Willie Jackson was relishing the moment, taking as many media questions as he could, mostly about whether Labour should have a Māori leader (“Not right now but I hope so eventually”), before school teacher Mr Robertson called him to class: “Willie, you’re needed in caucus.” 

With that, the doors closed and the MPs settled in for four hours of deliberations behind closed doors. There was a round of applause early into the meeting. They had some Domino’s pizzas delivered, which I deduced through investigative rigour (I saw some empty boxes). Halfway through the meeting, Andrew Little put out a statement announcing he was retiring from politics and tweeted a picture of himself dabbing on the Beehive steps

Andrew Little retires with a dab.

A handful of MPs emerged from time to time to go to the toilet. Most stayed quiet, except Damien O’Connor, who was in a very bad mood. When asked by Newshub’s Jenna Lynch whether Chris Hipkins was still the leader of the Labour party, he responded with “fuck off”. 

When he re-emerged, he seemed bewildered by the presence of the media in parliament. “What are you doing here?” he questioned.

As the meeting dragged on, the pile of journalists sitting in the hallway grew jumpy, overreacting every time the door creaked. At long last, Hipkins finally emerged, almost the entire caucus standing behind him, while media all shouted over each other asking the same question: Are you still the leader of the Labour Party? 

Yes, it turned out he was. Actually, it hadn’t even been on the agenda. There was no leadership vote this afternoon, but the party will have one within three months of the special votes being tallied, as required by the Labour constitution. At the very least, we confirmed that Hipkins has not stood down. “I’ve still got a bit of fight left in me,” he said. Just another day at parliament.

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