This article titled “Jacinda Ardern becomes youngest New Zealand Labour leader after Andrew Little quits” was written by Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin, for theguardian.com on Monday 31st July 2017 22.50 UTC
Andrew Little, the leader of New Zealand’s opposition Labour party, has stepped down less than two months before the country’s general election, with his deputy Jacinda Ardern taking his place.
The resignation comes after six weeks of declining popularity and three devastating weekend polls that placed support for Labour at just 23 to 24% – the party’s worst results since 1995.
Ardern, 37, was elected as the new leader of the beleaguered Labour party in a unanimous vote on Tuesday morning shortly after Little’s resignation, with Maori MP Kelvin Davis to be her deputy.
Ardern joined the Labour party at 17 and was elected to parliament in 2008. She is well-liked by the general public for her warmth and informality. The sometime DJ and former Mormon polls well with the young and women particularly.
But despite her “cool” factor she has been criticised for being inexperienced and untested.
In the past Ardern has said she was wary of being prime minister because of the pressure it would put on home and family life, and has long seemed ambivalent about taking the reins, despite being a member for 20 years.
Ardern is only the second woman to ever lead the party, alongside former prime minister Helen Clark.
At a press conference after the announcement Ardern said “relentless positivity” would be the hallmark of her election campaign.
“This team is about to run the campaign of our lives … I have a very clear view that we can be a much better country than this.”
“Granted I am a young proposition for the party, but this team has worked alongside me for nine years, they have faith in me, and I absolutely believe I am up for the job.”
Her deputy Davis is a former high-school principal who, as corrections minister, has taken a tough stance against the high numbers of Maori in prison, and the private-company running the institutions, Serco.
In 2015 Davis flew to Christmas Island to gather evidence and raise awareness of the appalling conditions faced by New Zealanders locked up in Australian detention centres, calling their treatment “inhumane”.
The combination of Ardern and Davis leading Labour was described as a “dream-team” by political commentators in New Zealand, but they face a tough fight to scrape back popularity in the polls so close to a general election.
Over the weekend Little, 52, asked his party if they would like him to step down, but they told him to stay and said they continued to support him as leader.
However, on Tuesday Little cancelled all his morning media interviews and called a caucus meeting. Just after 10am he said it was in the best interests of the party that he resign.
“We’ve not been able to get our message out about the things that actually matter.” he said.
“As leader, I must take responsibility for these results. I do take responsibility and believe that Labour must have an opportunity to perform better under new leadership through to the election.”
“I am determined to make sure that Labour fights this campaign with the greatest of resolve, because far too much is at stake for far too many New Zealanders.”
Little said he was not pushed or pressured to depart as leader.
Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni told Radio NZ there was “a little bit of sadness” at Little’s departure.
“Not upset with the decision. Politics is hard. Andrew has done a great job for us and we admire the fact that he’s made this decision to step aside. There’s a little bit of sadness, but you’ve got to get on with the job. And that’s winning the election.”
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