Clare Curran, Chris Hipkins, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern in 2016.
Clare Curran, Chris Hipkins, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern in 2016.

PoliticsJanuary 21, 2023

‘The guy just lives for DIY’: What to expect from Prime Minister Chris Hipkins

Clare Curran, Chris Hipkins, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern in 2016.
Clare Curran, Chris Hipkins, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern in 2016.

The ‘Mr Fix-it’ label applies to both home and politics, says Iain Lees-Galloway, who worked alongside the incoming PM in cabinet. Grant Robertson has meanwhile lauded an ‘amazing dad’.

The practical approach of incoming Labour leader and prime minister is epitomised by his enthusiasm for DIY projects. That’s the assessment of Iain Lees-Galloway, a former Labour MP and cabinet ally of Chris Hipkins.

“The guy just lives for DIY … He revels in building his own stuff and fixing up his home. He’s not only Mr Fix-it as a minister, but he can take care of his own backyard.”

Hipkins, who was the only nominated candidate for the vacancy created by Jacinda Ardern’s shock decision to stand down, is expected to be endorsed by the Labour caucus tomorrow and sworn in as prime minister later in the week.

A famously conscientious minister who has held a range of high-profile portfolios including education, police and Covid response as well as being leader of the house, Hipkins had proved himself “a very competent politician,” said Lees-Galloway. “He’s got the complete skillset. He’s really well respected and well liked in caucus. He’s a decent human being who treats people honestly and with respect. You always know where you stand with Chris … He’s intelligent, diligent, competent.”

Iain Lees-Galloway and Jacinda Ardern in 2018. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

While he could not hope to match the “bucketloads of charisma” that Jacinda Ardern radiated, “what I think is going to appeal to people about Chris is that he is very much focused on the basics … People loved Jacinda for her kindness and her compassion and her instincts in those moments of crisis. What I think will appeal to people about Chris will be his instincts around what matters to people in their normal day-to-day lives.” He had “a strong sense of what middle New Zealand needs”.

The swiftness of the announcement that Hipkins was the only nomination – within 48 hours of Ardern’s revelation – was “incredibly important”, said Lees-Galloway. “Both for the country, not to have that period of uncertainty for the country, but also for the party. To get this sorted out quickly and quietly, without any division being aired in public.” His discussions with former colleagues suggested “not only was there an impetus to get it down quickly and quietly but the process has been a really constructive one, where people have been focused on the skillset and criteria required, rather than some of the factional and personality driven stuff we’ve seen in the past.”

‘His care and love for his kids is something I so admire’

Grant Robertson shared his own tribute to the next prime minister alongside a photo (above) on social media this morning taken in 2016 when he, Hipkins, Ardern and Clare Curran, then opposition MPs, took part in the Oxfam Trailwalker in 2016. “My mate Chippy has been there through thick and thin,” said Robertson, who was best man at Hipkins’ wedding. “He is experienced and deeply grounded in Labour values. When I think of him, one of the first things that pops into my mind is that he is an amazing dad. His care and love for his kids is something I so admire. He is going to be a great leader and PM.” He added: “Still a bit of our process to go, but very proud of our Labour team!”

Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins at the Labour caucus retreat in 2022. Photo: Andy Jackson/Getty Images

In a separate post this morning, the deputy prime minister addressed supporters disappointed by his decision not to stand for leader himself. “I know that it has been hard for some folk to understand my decision not to put my name forward for the leadership of the Labour Party, following Jacinda’s resignation,” he wrote. “It’s been close to eight years since I have even considered the idea of being leader, when I lost the contest in 2014. Since that time  I have really enjoyed my role as finance spokesperson, then minister of finance, and latterly being deputy prime minister.  Working alongside and supporting Jacinda has been hugely fulfilling.”

He continued: “It’s also given me the chance to understand up close just what the job of being PM entails. It is a huge role, one that is all consuming, more so than any other ministerial role in this regard, including the ones I hold.   The bottom line is that confronted with a decision about putting myself forward now, it was clear to me at this point in my life and career, it is not a role that I have the desire to do. I value integrity highly.  The idea I would put myself forward for something when I was not able to offer what the role requires was simply not tenable to me.  I really appreciate the comments from those who want me to do the role, but I actually think it would be selfish and wrong to do so when I feel this way.”

Carmel Sepuloni, who is hotly tipped to become deputy Labour leader following fellow cabinet minister Kiri Allan ruling herself out of contention, praised Hipkins in an Instagram post. “So incredibly happy for and proud of my mate Chippy,” she wrote. “Having worked with you for the last 15 years, as Whips and co-leading our employment, education and training and youth crime work programmes, I know that you will make an exceptional prime minister of NZ. You have an incredible political nous and instinct, are decisive and know how to navigate government — both inside and out. Off the back of the exceptional leadership of Jacinda and Grant, I’m confident that Chris Hipkins has what it takes to take Aotearoa New Zealand forward.”


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Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said said her party “looks forward to working with Chris Hipkins as prime minister, and continuing a constructive working relationship with the Labour Party.” In a statement she said: ““Together in government, the Greens and Labour have made good progress to address some of the key challenges facing Aotearoa. But we know there is a lot of work to do.”

Act leader David Seymour said: “For the sake of all Kiwis, incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins needs to show they’re prepared to deliver on substance instead of snowing New Zealand with spin.”

With Labour struggling in polls, DIY projects don’t come much tougher than rebuilding the party and taking it to victory in the October election. Is his task really to save the furniture, or could Hipkins pull off a win? “I absolutely think Chris is capable of leading Labour to victory,” said Lees-Galloway. “I wouldn’t say ‘save the furniture’ as in keep the loss to a minimum. Definitely looking to stem the flow of votes away from Labour. But I think done right this could really make the election highly competitive. I think it will be close. I think there is opportunity here for Labour to really get back in the game.”

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