Where in the world is Andrew Little?

Former Labour leader Andrew Little has been keeping a low profile in the run-up to the election. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Just over a month ago, in a reality that now seems like fantasy, the Labour Party was languishing in the polls with a different leader. Shane Cowlishaw talks to Andrew Little about what it’s been like to suddenly take a back seat.

Oh, how time flies.

It seems like years, but really it was only 38 days ago that Andrew Little was leader of the Labour Party.

But a string of poor poll results, culminating in one showing a dismal 23 percent support for the party, led to ‘poll panic’ and a decision by the union stalwart to fall on his sword.

It cleared the way for what no-one saw coming – Jacindamania – and a rejuvenated Labour has now become a viable choice in the public’s eyes for Government.

Since that fateful day, Little has rarely been sighted.

He was on-stage at the party’s campaign launch, sharing a lingering hug with Ardern that became the photo of the day.

But despite being placed at number three on the list, he has seldom been spotted on the campaign trail.

His social media accounts have entered hibernation with only the occasional update.

Until a few days ago his Facebook page had only a few recent entries (one the aforementioned campaign launch). Since his resignation, he has tweeted only once.

Last week Little popped up in Whanganui, supporting local candidate Steph Lewis, visiting a recycling centre and a retirement village.

So he is back on the campaign trail, but hardly the prime time appearances he was used to as leader.

Little told Newsroom that while he was out and about (in Tauranga this week and a Chinese community event in Auckland on the weekend) he was keeping his head low.

It had been difficult stepping down from the leadership, something he was still getting over and adjusting to.

“Look, there’s an emotional hump you have to get over and I think I’m working my way through that, a shift in ambition and outlook.

“I don’t take any of that sort of stuff personally, whatever personal feelings I have about the change is about me. In the end this has always been about getting Labour in a position to win the election so I’ll do my bit and it’s going to be not quite off the radar, but below the radar.”

That meant providing some advice to the campaign team on issues as they arose, and the extra time available had also allowed him to catch up with correspondence from the public.

It had been satisfying watching the jump in the polls under Ardern, who he supported every day, he said.

Would he have liked to be the one in charge as the polls soared? "Naturally. But that clearly wasn’t happening," Little responds.

"I’m pleased with what I was able to do with my time as leader, getting a whole heap of things set up and getting the foundations laid and I take vicarious pleasure from the fact Jacinda is just able to get out there...and harness the amazing momentum I think we all thought was there.”

Of course, Little is not alone in fading into the background as a former leader.

His predecessors David Cunliffe, David Shearer, and Phil Goff all quickly took a backseat after failing to make traction against National.

All three have now left parliament, but Little will likely remain for the foreseeable future.

Former Labour Party president Mike Williams said keeping a low-profile following a leadership change was a smart decision for both the party and the politician.

“When Labour was defeated (in 2008) I rang a mentor of mine in Australia and said ‘what do I do?’. He gave me very good advice, he said ‘you resign at the first possible opportunity and you shut up for a few years’ and that’s what I did, it was very good advice.”

He said one of the worst examples of a leadership change was when Robert Muldoon was deposed by his deputy Jim McLay after losing the election, and stayed around making life miserable for the party.

Little had done the opposite and if Labour did form the next Government, would have the “last laugh”, Williams said.

“His job as leader of the Labour Party was to defeat Bill English and he may well of contributed to that by doing what he did.”