Rescued from dull blokiness
Supposedly, the classic test of electability hinges on which candidate the average voter would want to share a beer with, or sit alongside on a long international flight. By that measure, Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern would probably top the lists of most voters.
The Greens duo would be too worried about the plane’s carbon emissions, and Bill English is less the chap you’d share a beer with, and more the type you’d want as your designated driver.
Until recently, the Election 2017 campaign had looked like it was sinking beneath the weight of its own earnest-but-dull blokiness. Frankly, it is not much of a party if Gareth Morgan is the excitement factor. Good men and true though they be, neither English nor former Labour leader Andrew Little are the sort of politicians likely to inspire spontaneous shouts of ‘‘Three More Years of This!’’ from the electorate.
In fact, you have to think that the excitement generated by the sudden elevation of Ardern as Labour leader had as much to do with the nation’s relief at being rescued from a series of television debates between Little and English, as it had to do with Ardern’s own merits.
To date, National has based its campaign on its claims to providing security and economic stability – even though there is some evidence to the effect that in their personal lives, fewer people are feeling their jobs and their communities are all that safe.
The government has also been warning against any flirtation with the alternatives on offer - although under Little, Labour had been offering much the same settings on the economy, which recent polls have indicated is the public’s main concern.
Under Ardern, Labour is a less predictable opponent, and it will be harder to portray her as the Red Menace. Moreover, if National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce tries to patronise Ardern, the potential for blowback could be considerable.
As for Ardern’s deputy… since arriving in Parliament on the Labour list in 2008, Kelvin Davis has gone on to (a) win the Te Tai Tokerau seat (b) expose the ineptitude of the private prison provider Serco, and (c) put the government to shame for its weak response to the maltreatment being meted out by the Australian authorities to those New Zealanders being held in detention. Presumably, Davis’ elevation should also help Labour’s plans for a clean sweep of the Maori seats.
No doubt, the misogynist attacks on Ardern as a ‘‘lightweight’’ will persist – in some quarters, she’s been deemed guilty of being relatively young, likeable and a woman. In fact Ardern, 37, is almost the same age as Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. Plus, it would not be the first time in Labour’s history that a woman has been called upon to clear up the mess that the blokes have left behind. (See Helen Clark, early 1990s.)
Ardern doesn’t need to do much to look like a more vital option than English. Her immediate job will be to convince the public that a vote for her team is reasonably risk free; and that voters can afford to back the more attractive candidate, in most senses of the word.