Weekend Herald

On the road with ARDERN

Sticky site vis­its, mag­netic at­trac­tion and ven­tur­ing into en­emy ter­ri­tory

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New Zealand is try­ing to feed Labour leader Jacinda Ardern up. Wher­ever she goes, she has food shoved in her hands. At Pic’s Peanut But­ter fac­tory in Nel­son, it is a mas­sive 2kg jar of peanut but­ter.

The owner, Pic, is a Labour sup­porter. He wears the T- shirt to prove it.

On the day Ardern vis­its, they are sell­ing peanuts back to the Aus­tralians.

A sign an­nounces that day’s or­der is be­ing made to go to Aus­tralia, which is whence most of the peanuts came in the first place.

Pic’s shows Ardern its peanut but­ter fac­tory tours. The walls have handy hints for peanut but­ter painted on them: use it to re­move gum or other sticky sub­stances, cover a pill with it to fool a dog into eat­ing it.

One per­son tells her it i s the “Dis­ney World of food tourism”.

That is some­thing of a stretch, but it does of­fer some­thing of a small world ex­hi­bi­tion on Ardern’s visit.

Ardern runs into Scott Elmiger, who tells Ardern he used to babysit her when her fam­ily lived in Mu­ru­para.

She was about 7- years- old at the time, and he has not seen her since, “just on the tele­vi­sion”.

Was she naughty? “Ab­so­lutely not.”

Is he vot­ing for her? “Ab­so­lutely.” The site visit is a sta­ple of Ardern’s cam­paign. The large pub­lic ral­lies and speeches are Ardern’s forte, but it is a cam­paign tool she has largely eschewed this cam­paign. There will be one of two in the last week of the cam­paign, in­clud­ing in Welling­ton on Sun­day.

She tells the Her­ald that be­cause she was trav­el­ling in and out of Auck­land so much, she had de­cided to fol­low her own ad­vice and take her level with her by not hold­ing large gath­er­ings else­where.

As a re­sult, she de­clined the tra­di­tional ad­dress to Nel­son Grey Power.

Na­tional Party leader Ju­dith Collins had de­liv­ered a rol­lick­ing speech there the week be­fore, and in 2017, the Nel­son Grey Power was one of Ardern’s first pub­lic speak­ing events as Labour leader.

She was new and ex­cit­ing enough to at­tract about 450 peo­ple — far more than went to see Na­tional’s Bill English, although the seat is held by Na­tional MP Nick Smith.

Back in 2017, Ardern was a nov­elty. A breath of fresh air. The “star­dust”, as English him­self put it.

She pitched her­self as “change”, a new gen­er­a­tion, as “youth- ad­ja­cent”.

In 2020, the young ones call her “Aunty”.

I point this out to her, and ask if the “Aunty” means she is no longer youth- ad­ja­cent.

“I’m will­ing to ac­cept that,” Ardern says.

In the three years since, she has dealt with a lot — some would say too much — and it has in­evitably changed her and how peo­ple see her.

She i s cam­paign­ing on her own record rather than just prom­ises.

That record does not in­clude some of the prom­ises she made in 2017 — ar­eas on which Labour fell woe­fully short of the “change” promised, such as Ki­wiBuild.

But not a sin­gle per­son raises failed prom­ises with her over the five days I fol­low her.

The over­whelm­ing at­ti­tude to­wards her — even from those who ad­mit they will not vote for her — is re­spect.

The Prime Min­is­ter who roared: the walk­a­bout

Out­side the Swedish Bak­ery and Cafe in Nel­son, a woman i s wav­ing a baguette in the air as Ardern heads her way.

It is Bron­wyn Eriks­son, the owner. She presents Ardern with the baguette and a pas­try: and votes. “You’ve got all our votes here.”

Her bak­ery man­aged to keep on its two staff over the lock­down thanks to the wage sub­sidy.

Eriks­son is in awe at what Ardern has done. She talks about the ter­ror­ist at­tack, Whakaari/ White Is­land, and Covid- 19.

“She’s a mother, and she’s had to deal with these huge is­sues. She got five mil­lion peo­ple through a pan­demic. I didn’t think we’d do it as a coun­try to­gether, be­cause we’re too naughty. She did it.”

Then she says: “Who knows? She might not even want to do it for an­other term. She might want to be a stay- at- home mum and re­lax.”

I tell Ardern about that a few days later, and ask if any part of her won­ders what that would be like. She thinks for a while, and then says she does not dwell on that too much.

“I think I am in the right place for me, and for our fam­ily right now. There are mo­ments, of course, when I think I should be try­ing to spend more time with Neve. But ev­ery sin­gle par­ent feels like that at some point.

“So I have those mo­ments, but I never think about not do­ing what I’m do­ing now.”

There is a large crowd wait­ing for her in Hardie St where the Labour faith­ful gath­ered and had spread the news. They in­clude Emma Helleur and her friend Amy, who stand at the edge of the crush, watch­ing and strate­gis­ing.

“She’s only do­ing kids,” one con­cludes with dis­ap­point­ment.

“It’s not go­ing to hap­pen.” They set­tle for Grant Robert­son. “I like to think he’s car­ry­ing all of New Zealand’s money in his brief­case,” Emma says.

A bit later, they do man­age to get Ardern, and Robert­son and his brief­case are for­got­ten.

But she i s in­deed a mag­net for young chil­dren, notch­ing up an im­pres­sive daily tally of squats as she crouches down to talk to them.

She has no­ticed it her­self, rais­ing it when asked how peo­ple re­spond to her this time com­pared to in 2017. She puts it down to the Covid- 19 lock­down pe­riod.

There were so many chil­dren, she barely spoke to an el­i­gi­ble voter on her walk­a­bout.

One boy is wear­ing a top with lions on it. She asks him what sound lions make, and then roars at him by way of an­swer­ing her own ques­tion.

Not many peo­ple could say they have been roared at by a prime min­is­ter.

Oth­er­wise the con­ver­sa­tions can be a tad repet­i­tive.

Suf­fice it to say Ardern now well and truly knows she is beau­ti­ful, that a lot of peo­ple love her, and that she is in­spi­ra­tional. Some peo­ple get so over­whelmed they can­not say any­thing at all.

The chil­dren also give her gifts. As well as food, rocks are a com­mon pre­sen­ta­tion. “Painted rocks, rocks from riverbeds, carved rocks. But they’re not run- of- the- mill rocks, they’re all spe­cial rocks.”

She takes them all home. “When I come home, Neve barely makes eye con­tact with me, she just goes for my bag be­cause it is a trea­sure trove of rocks.”

Few en­gage Ardern in a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion.

The vast ma­jor­ity sim­ply want to see her, to have met her, to have pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence of it.

In Nel­son, many also raise the New­shub de­bate of the night be­fore.

When she is asked what feed­back they gave her af­ter­wards, Ardern says she did not as­sume the throngs were giv­ing her an un­bi­ased view. “I noted a lot of them were wear­ing Labour Party T- shirts.”

Many peo­ple thank her. It is the most com­mon re­sponse she gets.

Thanks for Covid- 19, thanks for her

We can­not af­ford to risk chang­ing course.

Jacinda Ardern, as she ap­peared in Spit­ting Im­age

han­dling of the mosque at­tacks.

Of this, she says she strug­gles to know what to say in re­sponse. “I say it’s just my job.”

Any­thing that re­quired more than a smile and an el­bow bump was del­e­gated to one of her other MPs.

Damien O’Con­nor got the job of test­ing the cy­cle- pow­ered peanut grinder at Pic’s.

She watched on, egged him on, and then de­clined O’Con­nor’s of­fer of a taste of the nuts of his labours.

Her rule of thumb is that any­thing John Key would have done for the cam­eras, she will not do.

Key em­braced ab­surd op­por­tu­ni­ties and did not mind look­ing like a bit of a goose. Ardern does not.

But there are par­al­lels to a Key cam­paign. Watch­ing Ardern in this cam­paign is akin to watch­ing Key in 2011 and 2014.

Then Labour was all at sea, and Key was mak­ing the most of it — point­ing to his side’s sta­bil­ity com­pared to the dys­func­tion and dis­unity on the other team.

Now it is Ardern point­ing to her side’s sta­bil­ity com­pared to the ruc­tions on the other side — and Ardern is not even beat­ing round the bush about it.

She has even adopted Key’s 2008 and first- term mantra of fo­cus­ing on “the is­sues that mat­ter”.

In short, she has the lux­ury of run­ning a pop­u­lar Prime Min­is­ter’s cam­paign.

It is like Na­tional’s row­ing boat ad of 2011 all over again, but in re­verse — with the blue bibs now in the dinghy of dis­com­bob­u­la­tion and the red bibs in the sleek row­ing boat.

Off- Brand Fri­day

Ardern’s is the low­est- risk cam­paign we have seen in some time, so it came as some­thing of a re­lief when one day was not as per­fectly pitched.

We headed out to an ad­dress at Birken­head Point to hear Ardern set out Labour’s hous­ing an­nounce­ment.

It was a build­ing site over­look­ing the Har­bour Bridge.

The home was be­ing built for US tech ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Matt Ocko. Ocko was a found­ing in­vestor in Rocket Lab and res­i­dent of New Zealand who hoped to be­come a cit­i­zen.

Ocko was back in the US, in­volved in Covid- 19- re­lated tech­nol­ogy, but planned to re­turn.

It would have been on- brand for Na­tional — but it could not have been fur­ther off for a Labour hous­ing an­nounce­ment.

Ardern, Me­gan Woods and David Parker stood on the spot which will one day be a car turntable for garag­ing.

The Ardern an­nounce­ment was a shrunken ver­sion of Ki­wiBuild, more state hous­ing, af­ford­able hous­ing and pro­gres­sive own­er­ship schemes, as well as Re­source Man­age­ment Act changes.

The only on- brand el­e­ments were the build­ing ap­pren­tices there — the visit was or­gan­ised by the BCITO for build­ing and con­struc­tion ap­pren­tices.

The site “con­crete- ol­o­gist” is Ross Ban­nan, who fea­tured on Grand De­signs in 2016. Ardern re­mem­bers the episode, and the accident in which con­crete blew up in his face.

He in­tro­duces Ardern to his son Troy, who i s also one of his ap­pren­tices. Ban­nan talks to her about re­source con­sents and the im­pact Covid- 19 had on his in­dus­try com­pared to the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Ban­nan is a de­cent bloke who has clearly done well in his trade. I later ask Ban­nan if he sup­ports Labour. He smiles sheep­ishly. “Umm. I think she’s done a great job, but . . . ”

I men­tioned the visit to a friend who knows Ban­nan. He replies with a photo of the hoard­ing on Ban­nan’s fence- line.

It was for Ardern’s ri­val in Mt Al­bert, Na­tional Party can­di­date Melissa Lee.

I laugh and laugh.

Into en­emy ter­ri­tory: a visit to the Ep­som elec­torate

Item two on the off- brand day sched­ule was a walk­a­bout in New­mar­ket.

New­mar­ket is in the heart of the Ep­som elec­torate — the seat sym­bolic of the Na­tional- Act combo Ardern is up against.

One of New Zealand’s his­toric po­lit­i­cal events hap­pened right here: for­mer Green MP Keith Locke walked down Broad­way wear­ing body paint and a G- string af­ter pledg­ing to run down Broad­way naked if Hide won Ep­som in 2005. It was a les­son in bet­ting on the un­ex­pected.

Auck­land i s still in level 2 and Broad­way i s some­thing of a ghost town com­pared to the olden days.

Af­ter an ini­tial flurry of photos out­side 277, Ardern walks for al­most a block with­out be­ing stopped.

Then she hears the hub­bub from be­hind her and turns around.

A long string of peo­ple are now trail­ing in her wake. It is like a scene from the Pied Piper, although Ardern leads them down Teed St in­stead of into a cave.

There she stops.

The best place to stand is at the back of the scrum around her, the spot where peo­ple first reg­is­ter she is there.

It is where you hear peo­ple talk about her, rather than to her. It i s where you watch them emerge af­ter their brief en­counter, all squeals and fist pumps, and show off their new photo.

Two teenage boys are stand­ing at the back of the crowd try­ing to work up the courage to go up for a photo.

“Go on, just go up there,” one says. “No, I get re­ally awk­ward,” the other replies.

They stand there for a long time, watch­ing. The first guy has an­other go. “This is your only chance!”

“Shut up,” the sec­ond guy says. Even­tu­ally they wan­der off with photos of her, but not with her.

A cou­ple of Irish men stop to look. “She’s just a feck­ing legend isn’t she?” one says as they move on.

An­other Irish man comes along soon af­ter. It i s Oisin Flynn from Dublin, but who now lives in New Zealand.

He sees Ardern, grins with de­light and ploughs in.

He says his father, who still lives in Dublin, is a great ad­mirer of Ardern. “So am I. If other coun­tries had a prime min­is­ter like her, we’d be do­ing re­ally well.”

Not every­body stops. A few peo­ple walk by, look and see who it is and move on quickly — pos­si­bly the Na­tional vot­ers who hold sway in this elec­torate.

A cou­ple of older women ask a po­lice­man what is go­ing on.

“The Prime Min­is­ter is just there,” he says. “So get in there!”

“No thanks,” they say and walk on across the road. At the very end of the walk­a­bout Ardern comes across two other teenage boys who are much less shy than the first pair­ing.

“How many TikTok likes for a date, Aunty Cinda?” they call out. “A lot,” she replies. “Ah come on, how many?” “A lot.” “Rat­shit!” and they walk off.

I tell Ardern later this will be chron­i­cled as her “off- brand” day.

She laughs when I tell her she was stand­ing where the re­volv­ing car pad would be, and says, “Don’t for­get about the ap­pren­tices.

“Those were very on- brand.” On the de­ci­sion to visit New­mar­ket, some­thing most Labour lead­ers would not bother with, she refers to Labour’s Ep­som can­di­date Camilla Belich, who was with her.

“We don’t aban­don any of our can­di­dates.”

Later that same day came the news US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had tested pos­i­tive for Covid- 19.

On- brand Satur­day: South Auck­land The next day Ardern is back to Labour heartland: South Auck­land.

The South Auck­land rally is a tra­di­tional elec­tion event for Labour — loud, crowded and proudly red.

Tra­di­tion was trumped by Covid19 and this year it did not hap­pen.

In­stead Ardern is at Ed­mund Hil­lary Col­le­giate tara watch­ing party vol­un­teers call sup­port­ers to en­cour­age them to vote early.

It is the first day of early vot­ing and Ardern had cast her own vote ear­lier in the day. She had driven her­self to the Mt Eden War Me­mo­rial Hall with part­ner Clarke Gay­ford in their Hyundai Iconic, turn­ing up like any other or­di­nary cit­i­zen — al­beit trailed by se­cu­rity.

Gay­ford’s vote took a bit longer than Ardern’s, leav­ing her wait­ing for him at the back of the hall. She quips he is clearly hav­ing to think quite hard about who to vote for.

Ardern spoke to the Her­ald af­ter­wards, and said the ab­sence of the rally, and other events like it were no­tice­able.

“It does feel like a piece of the cam­paign has been miss­ing. I have no­ticed the ab­sence of ral­lies and the en­ergy ev­ery­one brings when they’re at those events.”

I ask her to rank her favourite cam­paign el­e­ment out of walk­a­bouts, pub­lic meet­ings and the de­bates against Ju­dith Collins.

She picks walk­a­bouts. “But it de­pends where you are. They can be . . . spon­ta­neous.”

Ardern was back in South Auck­land again on the Sun­day, vis­it­ing

Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity’s cur­tain bank for an an­nounce­ment of fund­ing for the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and ex­tra staff to po­lice com­pli­ance by land­lords with the new Healthy Homes re­quire­ments.

Af­ter she leaves, I get a text from her staff: “PM says very on- brand day!”

The day of the Prime Min­is­ter’s hat. Christchur­ch

On Mon­day, the Labour leader hat was swapped for the Prime Min­is­ter’s hat.

Ardern held the fi­nal Cabi­net meet­ing and was do­ing a press con­fer­ence in the Christchur­ch Art Gallery to an­nounce Auck­land would be mov­ing down to level 1.

The Prime Min­is­ter is not meant to use the post- Cabi­net pul­pit to cam­paign. At first Ardern was semi­care­ful about the bound­ary.

She ran through her usual pre­am­ble, re­fer­ring to the “team of five mil­lion” ac­knowl­edg­ing they were “a lit­tle more bat­tle- weary this time”.

But to­wards the end, a lit­tle bit of the Labour leader sneaked through.

She noted New Zealand was in a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion than other coun­tries with sec­ond out­breaks, and the sac­ri­fices were worth it.

The sub­text was clear: do not take the risk of chang­ing to some­one else who might not do things the same.

Lest the sub­tlety was missed Ardern spelled it out in black and white once the time came for me­dia ques­tions, where the bound­aries be­tween cam­paign­ing and gov­ern­ing were more flex­i­ble.

“We can­not af­ford to risk chang­ing course, par­tic­u­larly when the two Op­po­si­tion par­ties have $ 8 bil­lion holes in their plans that they can­not ac­count for.”

It took very lit­tle time for Collins to ob­ject on Twit­ter.

There are two sides to cam­paign­ing: pro­mot­ing one own’s wares and shoot­ing down the ri­val’s.

The closer the elec­tion, the more Ardern has tilted to­ward the lat­ter.

She has shown an ap­petite for a po­lit­i­cal up­per­cut which was not as ap­par­ent in 2017 when she was op­er­at­ing un­der the “re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive” creed.

By way of skew­er­ing the reverie, a Spit­ting Im­age skit tak­ing the mickey out of Ardern landed that day, with Ardern as Mary Pop­pins and the cho­rus “su­per- Kiwi- so­cial­is­tic- ex­tran­ice Jacinda”.

That too had a clear sub­text: that Ardern was be­ing a bit smug about her achieve­ments.

Ardern grinned when it was raised and ob­served she was just glad she’d whipped Neve out of the room be­fore it played.

The Press de­bate on Tues­day night showed what Ardern had been re­hears­ing for the day be­fore.

She taunted Collins about the break­out of dis­unity within Na­tional’s ranks. She ribbed her about the fis­cal holes.

She claimed that each of Na­tional’s three re­cent lead­ers had a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion on Covid- 19 “and they’re all wrong”.

Af­ter it was over, the ma­jor­ity of com­men­ta­tors de­clared Ardern the “win­ner” of the de­bate — a crown that had been held by Collins for the pre­vi­ous two de­bates.

Back in Nel­son, the walk­a­bout is nearly done and Ardern has gone into a cafe for a bath­room stop.

Two women are look­ing in from the street through a cafe win­dow, pro­vid­ing the run­ning com­men­tary.

“Here she is! Oh, she’s hav­ing a water!”

“She prob­a­bly just wants to sit down and have a cof­fee on her own,” some­one else says.

“Not as much as she wants a sec­ond term,” I point out.

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 ??  ?? Jacinda Ardern at Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary Col­le­giate in tara ( main); Ardern on stage at The Press Lead­ers’ De­bate; Ardern on the cam­paign trail in Lyt­tel­ton ( right); a pup­pet of Jacinda Ardern on Spit­ting Im­age ( be­low). Photos / Brett Phibbs, Stuff, Derek Cheng, BBC
Jacinda Ardern at Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary Col­le­giate in tara ( main); Ardern on stage at The Press Lead­ers’ De­bate; Ardern on the cam­paign trail in Lyt­tel­ton ( right); a pup­pet of Jacinda Ardern on Spit­ting Im­age ( be­low). Photos / Brett Phibbs, Stuff, Derek Cheng, BBC

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