Otago Daily Times

Queen Jacinda’s road ahead

- UK News · Politics · Elizabeth II · Arbeidersparty · Andrew Little · Simon Bridges · New Zealand · Helen Clark · Winston Peters · Jacinda Ardern · Judith Collins · John Key · New Zealand First

LABOUR and Jacinda Ardern have crushed Ju­dith Collins and Na­tional in an ex­tra­or­di­nary elec­tion. Labour won suf­fi­cient seats to gov­ern alone, un­prece­dented since MMP be­gan in 1996. Even Na­tional’s John Key did not achieve this ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity.

The “trans­for­ma­tion” was re­mark­able. Labour, un­der An­drew Lit­tle, was lan­guish­ing in the polls about 24% only months be­fore the 2017 elec­tion. And only seven months ago, Na­tional was still polling be­tween 40% and 45%, even with un­pop­u­lar Si­mon Bridges in charge.

The rise of celebrity com­mu­ni­ca­tor Ms Ardern has been phe­nom­e­nal. Her re­sponses to the mosque killings are ac­knowl­edged as ex­em­plary and her Covid lead­er­ship was out­stand­ing. She con­tin­ued in a sim­i­lar style on Satur­day night.

Now, of course, comes the chal­lenge of the next three years. Ms Ardern and Labour are vul­ner­a­ble to ac­cu­sa­tions of sweet talk and lit­tle ac­tion, of non­“de­liv­ery”. Hous­ing is­sues have mag­ni­fied, child poverty is worse and the men­tal health cri­sis is as bad as ever.

Ms Ardern three years ago talked of “trans­for­ma­tive” gov­ern­ment.

Al­ready, even be­fore the Left’s eu­pho­ria damp­ens, rum­blings sur­face that Labour needs to show starch, be de­ci­sive and use its po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to make a real dif­fer­ence.

These ex­pec­ta­tions, how­ever, will need to be tem­pered be­cause this is not the Ardern way.

On Satur­day night Ms Ardern reached out to those who did not vote for Labour as well as those who did so for the first time. We must lis­ten to the point of view of oth­ers, she said. She warned of the po­lar­i­sa­tion that is plagu­ing much of the West. We were told that change “that sticks” is the way ahead.

In other words, Ms Ardern — and she sets the tone as the undis­puted queen of Labour who led it from the wilder­ness and reigned over this tri­umph — will not be rad­i­cal. She avoided such talk in her care­fully framed speech. Ms Ardern is no rev­o­lu­tion­ary at heart.

She was true to her na­ture in those re­marks. While strong, she comes across as com­pas­sion­ate and con­cil­ia­tory, and who can doubt that.

Even if the im­age of the “kind”, benev­o­lent, thought­ful monarch is in part an act by the mis­tress of em­pathic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, that per­sona feeds back on it­self. Ms Ardern has staked out a distinc­tive style.

Nat­u­rally, Ms Ardern is aware of the crit­i­cism of her nice­talk­ing, do­lit­tle gov­ern­ment. Hence, also, the em­pha­sis on “crack­ing on” with pol­icy.

Labour will be able to in­sist on cam­eras on fish­ing boats, to pro­ceed with more of its em­ploy­ment re­la­tions plans and move on var­i­ous fronts with­out the New Zealand First “hand­brake”.

Al­though their per­son­al­i­ties dif­fer, Ms Ardern will en­deav­our to drive change in the He­len Clark “in­cre­men­tal” man­ner. While the oc­ca­sional jolt will shift the dial left, pro­gres­sive agen­das will be en­acted pro­gres­sively, step by step.

Soon, such change ac­cu­mu­lates and makes a dif­fer­ence — for bet­ter or worse de­pend­ing on the per­spec­tive. And only if such changes “stick”, will their legacy last.

Win­ston Pe­ters helped keep the last gov­ern­ment an­chored close to the mid­dle of pol­i­tics. Labour ben­e­fited from that as it swept across the coun­try and as­suaged the fears of swaths of po­ten­tial sup­port. Labour could, for ex­am­ple, blame New Zealand First for the ditch­ing of the cap­i­tal gains tax.

The con­ve­nient ex­cuse is gone be­cause Labour has the num­bers. Ms Ardern and the party can take re­spon­si­bil­ity for both its ac­tions and in­ac­tions.

Politi­cians like to pro­nounce, as they win, that they will gov­ern for all peo­ple. But this ideal will be nearly im­pos­si­ble to ful­fil even for Ms Ardern. There are win­ners and losers and con­flict­ing in­ter­ests when the pres­sure of pol­icy, pol­i­tics and spend­ing pri­or­i­ties are ap­plied. Even with the best in­ten­tions, Ms Ardern’s road ahead will be bumpy with lots of rocks and pot­holes.

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