Political commentator Barry Soper explains how Meka Whaitiri defecting to Māori Party could be good for New Zealand First

A commentator is predicting Meka Whaitiri's ditching of the Labour Party for Te Pāti Māori will actually benefit another political party - New Zealand First.

Barry Soper, a veteran Newstalk ZB political journalist, told AM he didn't believe Whaitiri's defection would be "necessarily good for the Māori vote".

As officially confirmed by the Māori Party on Wednesday morning, Whaitiri - a minister outside of Cabinet - was dumping Labour to stand as a candidate for Te Pāti Māori. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who only recently landed in the UK ahead of King Charles' coronation, said he hadn't spoken to Whaitiri in weeks. Newshub understands Whaitiri wasn't returning Labour's calls.

According to ACT Party leader David Seymour, Whaitiri's defection was "ultimately a distraction from the real issues New Zealanders face".

Soper, appearing on AM's panel, explained why the move by Whaitiri could be good for New Zealand First.

"There'll be those out there that know that if the Māori Party do get in, the policies that have been shelved will be back certainly on the front burner after the election if the Māori Party hold the balance of power," Soper said. "It's going to be, I think, really difficult for Labour… with a disenfranchised Māori vote and that's what it looks as though it could be," he added.

Earlier on Wednesday (NZ time), Hipkins denied he'd lost control of his Cabinet.

He said he didn't want to comment further until he'd had a conversation with Whaitiri.

Recent polling suggested Te Pāti Māori could be a popular option for voters come October's election and might be the kingmaker party. 

Trish Sherson, a right-leaning political commentator, told AM Hipkins was "facing into some stormclouds".

"For Labour, what this means is all of the momentum for Hipkins is gone, all of the issues they want to put behind them leading into the election campaign… are all going to be front and centre," Sherson said, appearing alongside Soper.

"To the New Zealand First point… it could go either way; on one way, you look at it and go, 'The oxygen's been sucked out of New Zealand First as the kingmaker' because all anyone's talking about is Te Pāti Māori. On the other way, people might go, 'Jeepers - that combination of Labour, potentially the Greens and Te Pāti Māori? We'll switch our vote to New Zealand First.'"