The rise and rise of Jacinda Ardern
By Roger Childs
In January she was just one of the Opposition’s shadow cabinet and a list MP. However by late October she was prime minister.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Jacinda Ardern, to become the 40th leader of the New Zealand government and at 37, the youngest since the middle of the 19th century.
In her short time as leader of the nation her government has implemented a number of policies, in line with her promises to do plenty in the first 100 days.
She has also been overseas to the APEC Conference and made a favourable impression with world leaders.
Seizing the opportunities
The breakthroughs started in March when she became MP for Mt Albert and replaced Annette King as deputy leader of the Opposition.
Meanwhile, the National Government seemed headed for a fourth term in office as the Labour leader, Andrew Little, lacked the charismatic appeal of John Key. Despite coming across as a politician with principles and a sound grasp of policy, he failed to eat into National’s popular support.
However, Key’s decision to step as prime minister for personal reasons, was a game changer. Finance Minister, Bill English, took over and the government had an air of vulnerability, even though National’s popular support remained as strong as ever.
Then in late July, Little acknowledged that Labour needed a change of leadership to have any chance of becoming the government in the up-coming election.
It was a bold move but many pundits and armchair critics wondered about changing horses in mid stream.
Firmly in the saddle
Back in 2012 the egotistical and unpredictable Kevin Rudd stabbed Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the back and took Australian Labor down to its worst
election defeat in decades.
The Rudd coup left the Aussie Labor floor awash with blood.
In contrast, the decent and principled Andrew Little had stepped aside for the good of the party.
There was no acrimony, and the New Zealand Labour Party quickly united behind the new leader and her deputy, Kelvin Davis.
Jacinda Ardern immediately took Labour upwards in the polls and her appeal to the electorate was reinforced by her youthful image, confident public speaking and solid grasp of policy.
National knew they had a fight on their hands.
For a short time in the campaign Labour was out-polling National and Ardern was ahead of English in the preferred prime minister stakes.
However, there were some stumbles over water policy and taxation issues, and the Tories shifted tactics into a dirty politics mode.
They cast some doubts in the public mind about what they might be in for with a Labour-Green Coalition.
On election night National was comfortably the biggest party and English talked about the moral authority to form a government.
It looked as if it would be “business as usual”.
Specials and the Winston factor
Special votes invariably favour the left wing parties and National subsequently lost two seats. Furthermore the Maori Party was out of the
equation and the Tories seemed to have no Plan B. Unfortunately for them, they had not kept onside with Winston Peters and had campaigned hard to clean him out of his Northland seat.
So it was no big surprise that he threw the New Zealand Party’s lot in with Labour and the Greens.
What seemed impossible back in January and even as late as September, was now reality: Jacinda Ardern became prime minister.
This is a breath of fresh air on the political scene and despite some early hiccups, the government was quickly into its stride. However, there are plenty of problems to solve and issues to confront.
Time will tell whether Jacinda Arden is in the top role for the long haul.
Certainly the spirit is willing, but the new government needs to show the country that it can bring about greater social justice and equality, while maintaining economic stability.