Ardern seems set to drive change

Kapiti Observer - - CONVERSATIONS - GOR­DON CAMP­BELL TALK­ING POL­I­TICS

Last week, there was some­thing re­as­sur­ingly old school in the way the na­tion clus­tered com­mu­nally around its ra­dios and tele­vi­sions to learn at the same mo­ment – the pow­er­ful and the pow­er­less alike – just who our next po­lit­i­cal lead­ers would be. We should en­joy such mo­ments of har­mony while we can, be­cause from now on the me­dia will doubt­less be hunt­ing for signs of dis­cord in this ‘‘part­ner­ship’’ – as PM-elect Jacinda Ardern has called the new coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

In fact, the fo­cus on bad news be­gan sec­onds af­ter New Zealand First leader Win­ston Peters an­nounced his choice. The dol­lar has dropped, a jour­nal­ist called out – but, Peters coun­tered, it had dropped ear­lier in the day, and re­cov­ered. To pre-empt this sort of crit­i­cism, Peters had be­gun his pre­am­ble with the ob­ser­va­tion that the New Zealand econ­omy started to soften some time ago, with a po­ten­tial slow­down in sight.

‘‘There were great risks in what­ever de­ci­sion we made,’’ Peters said, ‘‘and de­spite our hav­ing had no in­flu­ence on these risks, some will at­tempt to heap the blame on us. That those ‘blame’ car­i­ca­tures are both spu­ri­ous and mis­placed, won’t stop at­tempts to mis-de­scribe the cause of events.’’

De­spite the me­dia’s en­er­getic search for signs of dis­cord, PM­elect Jacinda Ardern can ex­pect to en­joy a rea­son­able hon­ey­moon pe­riod, per­haps last­ing right through sum­mer un­til Par­lia­ment re­con­venes in Fe­bru­ary, and nor­mal po­lit­i­cal bat­tle is re-joined in earnest. Al­ready, Ardern has shown an abil­ity to han­dle the me­dia con­fi­dently, by im­part­ing enough in­for­ma­tion to meet the ques­tion while not al­low­ing her­self to be led down dan­ger­ous side roads. That’s a nec­es­sary and in­nate skill: good politi­cians bet on their abil­ity to think on their feet, while poor ones equiv­o­cate and run for cover.

The fas­ci­nat­ing prospect with Ardern is that she has a man­date for change – and an ap­par­ent readi­ness to go on the front foot and try to take the coun­try with her, as she al­ters the coun­try’s ba­sic pol­icy set­tings. He­len Clark, for all her for­mi­da­ble skills, was a cau­tious leader who rarely used the PM’s ros­trum as a bully pul­pit. Clark was more in­clined to fore­see risk, and would try to pre- empt the pos­si­ble lines of at­tack from the me­dia and her po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. Clark con­served power; Ardern seems more in­clined to use it, and she’ll be picked to pieces if she doesn’t. Ba­si­cally, the new gov­ern­ment can­not af­ford to be gun­shy of the me­dia. Timid­ity just isn’t an op­tion.

Of course, a leader can only do so much in a three-way ar­range­ment. Both Win­ston Peters and James Shaw will need to be alert to the po­ten­tial scrub fires on their watch and ex­tin­guish them, es­pe­cially af­ter the Greens gain a new co-leader. The Greens have a con­fi­dence and sup­ply deal with three min­is­te­rial posts out­side Cab­i­net. Sup­pos­edly, this en­ables the Greens to crit­i­cise the gov­ern­ment on is­sues out­side their min­is­te­rial ar­eas of re­spon­si­bil­ity – yet in­evitably, the me­dia will be likely to treat such crit­i­cism as ev­i­dence of dishar­mony in the ranks.

We are liv­ing in in­ter­est­ing times. Hav­ing voted for change, the pub­lic will need to show some will­ing­ness to em­brace it when they see it.

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