Popularity of New Zealand’s ruling party soars after Jacinda Ardern’s resignation

Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins - Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images
Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins - Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images

New Zealand's prime minister said he will focus on "what matters" to voters as he unveiled his new cabinet amid a surge in support following Jacinda Ardern's shock resignation.

Chris Hipkins, a once close ally of Ms Ardern who has sought to distance himself from the former leader since taking power, promised a return to "core bread and butter issues".

“The government hears loud and clear that many New Zealanders and many families are struggling,” Mr Hipkins said as he attempted to address disenchanted voters.

“You want us focused on what most matters to you, and in this cabinet are the people to do that. Some have experienced many of those struggles themselves.”

His comments and reshuffle came as his Labour Party was buoyed by a boost in the polls after Ms Ardern stepped down amid discord over her premiership.

Two major polls on Tuesday showed New Zealand's Labour jumped five percentage points in the first five days that Mr Hipkins was at the helm.

Analysts had questioned whether the party could bounce back from a dismal year without the globally admired Ms Ardern.

Ms Ardern announced a fortnight ago that she "didn't have enough in the tank" to go to the October election.

Her decision, which she insisted was hers alone, came after intense scrutiny over her government's strict Covid lockdowns, rampant inflation and a cost of living crisis.

Personal and party popularity had plummeted by December to their lowest since Ms Ardern became prime minister in 2017.

Mr Hipkins polled 23 per cent as the preferred prime minister in the 1News poll, one percentage point above Christopher Luxon, the opposition National Party leader.

One of the big winners in Mr Hipkins's reshuffle was Ayesha Verrall, a former minister, who led the controversial Covid response and helped bring in a lifetime ban on youths buying cigarettes.

Andrew Little, the former health minister, was moved to a defence brief. Mr Hipkins said Nanaia Mahuta, the foreign minister, can focus more on her role abroad after the pandemic.

“I do see engagement in the Pacific region as a particularly important priority for New Zealand,” added Mr Hipkins, alluding to the growing threat of China.

The boost in the polls showed the success of Mr Hipkins's messaging in the early days of his premiership, said analysts.

"The challenge from here is delivering on those expectations in an environment where inflation and interest rates remain high, and some unpopular policies may prove tricky to unpick," said Ben Thomas, political commentator and former National Party staffer.