She has the x-factor - is that enough? video

CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ.

Jacinda Ardern takes the Labour Party reins.

OPINION:  Labour's new leader has the x-factor. Now Jacinda Ardern has to make the most of her honeymoon period to turn that into votes.

The 37-year-old's promotion has already done Labour a huge favour. It has shaken the election out of its torpor and National can no longer assume a cake walk to victory.

Ardern's performance just hours after being catapulted into the leadership was assured, polished and confident.

Jacinda Ardern has soared in popularity.
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

Jacinda Ardern has soared in popularity.

She thought fast on her feet, used humour to deflect difficult questions, and was decisive in the face of questions that many of her predecessors would have stumbled over.

Political convention says it is electoral suicide to change leaders two months out from an election but these are no longer ordinary times. The political rule book is being rewritten around the world. 

READ MORE:
What are Labour's new leaders Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis all about?
Labour pins its hopes on a new top team - and a honeymoon for Ardern
The Andrew and Jacinda show - has anything changed?

Ardern and Little in happier times.
CATRIN OWEN/STUFF

Ardern and Little in happier times.

Ardern and her new deputy Kelvin Davis will shake up the political landscape. They are the perfect foil to each other - Davis the blunt talking hardman from the right of the party, and a pitch to Maori voters. Ardern is the social conscience of the party's left. And they ring the generational changes after three terms of National.

Ardern passed her first two big tests on day one, stamping her mark on the leadership in her first media conference, and facing off against Prime Minister Bill English in the House.

The next big test will be over the coming days when she sketches out the extent to which Labour's direction will change under her leadership.

NZN VIDEO

After quitting as party leader, Andrew Little says he has absolute confidence in Jacinda Ardern.

That includes walking a difficult tightrope over Labour's relationship with the Greens and NZ First.

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English is a formidable opponent - he has the gravitas and credibility of nine years as a successful finance minister behind him,. His appeal is as the safe pair of hands.

But there are shades of 2008 when rookie leader John Key upstaged the equally formidable Helen Clark. His optimism won out over Clark's competence.

In the later years of his leadership Key never made much of a secret out of his view that Ardern posed the biggest threat to National.

She is not just popular with Labour's base. She has star power. She also has a high profile in the all important Auckland market, cut through with the broader electorate and the business community see her as someone they can do business with.

Labour's punt is high stakes. Ardern and Davis could both fall flat on their face after being thrust into the pressure cooker of a campaign with absolutely no experience of being in the media spotlight 24/7. But Labour had run out of options.

After a chaotic and desperate 24 hours, Little was a dead man walking. He signed his own death warrant after admitting he canvassed stepping down with senior colleagues following a string of disastrous polls.

On those polls Little was on the cusp of losing his own seat in Parliament - that is an untenable position for any leader.

But other careers are at stake as well. The rout is looking so comprehensive, the party is looking at its ranks being decimated. Getting rid of Little had become a matter of self preservation. 

Ardern is going to have to get on a very fast learning trajectory.

But I've seen her on the campaign trail and she has the x-factor. At a gathering in New Plymouth she was supposedly the warm up act to Little. But it was clear she was the main event. Ardern had the audience in the palm of her hand - when Little took over he spent 50 minutes talking into a microphone andhe had lost them after the first 10. 

The people who left that pub that night would have voted for Ardern - but I'm not sure they would have voted for Little. Even the party faithful among them.

Ardern's huge job now is to translate that to the national stage. 

She will put enormous pressure on herself to win but her colleagues will be grateful enough if she can just stave off the rout.

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 - Stuff

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