Analysis: Hipkins, heavy rainfalls and leadership overhauls

Chris Hipkins during his first visit as PM to Australia.

Tomorrow is meant to be the start of the political year. 120 MPs are meant to fly in and it’s the first opportunity for the opposition to hold the government to account.

But like many things in 2023, it’s not typical.

All is in limbo because of a major weather event. Instead of coming back fresh, many in this building will be thinking "how is it only February?"

It’s already been a big year.

We have seen a seismic shift in the political landscape over the last three weeks.

It’s been 24 days since Jacinda Ardern made her surprise resignation in Hawke's Bay and in those 24 days we’ve seen a leadership contest, new leaders elected, new leaders sworn in, Ardern farewelled, a new cabinet announced and a policy bonfire.

Add to the mix Ratana celebrations, the marking of Waitangi, two major polls, a trip to Canberra as well as horrible flooding and a cyclone. It’s been a lot.

I’ve spent most days with the new Prime Minister since he took the job and this is what I’ve learned.

He’s hungry for the job.

His grin in Canberra when he met Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese summed it up. He wants the job and is happy to be doing it. He’s willing to give things a go (like going in the waka at Waitangi). It’s been five years since we’ve had a new Prime Minister and he’s coming in fresh.

He's Chippy from the Hutt.

That’s not a gag – he is connected to his Hutt roots in all aspects of life, but does have a swirl of Wellington career politician mixed in.

He’s very aware of being a Wellington MP.

We’ve already seen how much time he’s spending in Auckland. The election will be won and lost in Auckland and all parties know that. I also think that’s why he chose to stay in Auckland during the cyclone – he doesn’t want to be standing in a warm, dry room in Wellington updating people on the latest from our biggest city.

Glimmers of frustration.

During Covid-19 pressers Hipkins did let his frustration with some of the questions show through. We haven’t seen that since he’s been PM but I have noticed we’re getting a few more one-word answers to questions compared to Ardern. “No” has been the firm and direct response several times.

He’s stirring things up.

He’s making some popular political moves like cancelling or postponing several unpopular polices, but that won’t be popular with some around the cabinet table and he will need to balance that out. Being a leader is about taking your team along with you. He’s crossed the first hurdle of becoming leader without a public scrap, but he needs to keep his cabinet colleagues happy.

The press gallery is energised.

It’s fair to say many in the press gallery were grinding out the last few weeks of last year. This change (along with some time off over summer and a few sleep-ins) has given a new vigour to the journalists that work in this building.

It has been an epic start to election year. And it’s only just begun.