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.

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