Grant Robertson next Labour leader?

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Last updated 05:00 04/02/2011

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The meteoric rise of Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson to Labour's front bench will further fuel speculation that he could be a future leader of the party.

Promoted yesterday after only two years in Parliament, the 39-year-old former diplomat and student politician is already being touted by some in the party as the natural leader of the leftist MPs in caucus.

His hard work and success in the state services role earmarked him for higher office – a view reinforced when he was identified by the media as leading opposition to Phil Goff's 2009 speech on race and the foreshore and seabed. Mr Robertson said his role had been overstated and he was "comfortable where we are" on the issue.

However, asked about his leadership ambitions before yesterday's reshuffle, he said: "Every politician has got ambitions. Every politician ... wants to be a minister but it is also really important to take one step at a time and not get too beyond yourself."

As a gay MP, he did not think his sexuality would be a limiting factor. "I certainly hope not. I think New Zealand is changing from where it was 15 or 20 years ago ... My sexuality is part of who I am but it's just that – it's part of who I am."

He said he had great faith in voters, who, after all, elected transsexual Georgina Beyer in Wairarapa.

His own political coming of age was in Dunedin, where he grew up the son of a banker-turned-Presbyterian minister and a mother who retrained as an intermediate teacher.

In 1984 David Lange was one of his first political influences: "He was a big guy with glasses and I was a big guy with glasses by then."

He was full of praise for Helen Clark's principles and hard work – he was the understudy to Miss Clark's chief of staff, Heather Simpson. He gave more muted praise to Mr Goff's hard work, "stickability" and intellectual ability.

Working with Ms Simpson, he was pivotal in the interest-free student loans policy that helped Labour win a third term in 2005. He said he still backed the policy for its impact on students' debt burden and as a way to keep graduates in New Zealand.

Education was one of the primary reasons he entered politics, although he was interested in social policy broadly; hence his new role as health spokesman. He freely admitted, however, that finance minister was not for him.

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- The Dominion Post

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