On Ardern’s age and experience

Any new leader will attract comment on what makes them a bit different. John Key’s solo parent state house upbringing was a talking point, as was his international career in foreign exchange.

Two things about Jacinda Ardern have been talking points, her gender and her age. That she is New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister, who did part of her political apprenticeship in the office of the second, means that’s not a stand out.

Ardern’s relatively young age for a New Zealand Prime Minister – she is one of the youngest – has raised some questions about whether she is up to the job, but that is based on nothing of importance.

Ardern is now 37 years old, but has a long political history. She joined the Labour Party as a teenager, and was recruited by an aunt to help with a campaign for an MP in 1999, when she was 19. A couple of years later she graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Studies (BCS) in politics and public relations. Since then:

  • Worked in the offices of Minister Phil Goff and Prime Minister Helen Clark
  • Volunteered in a soup kitchen in New York
  • Worked as an adviser in UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 80-person policy unit
  • Seconded to the UK Home Office assisting with a review of policing in England and Wales
  • Elected President of the International Union of Socialist Youth and spent time in a number of countries including Jordan, Israel, Algeria and China
  • Ranked 20 on Labour’s 2008 party list (a remarkable placement at that stage)
  • Returned to New Zealand to campaign in the Waikato electorate, which she lost but became an MP through the list, becoming the youngest sitting MP at the time (28 years old)
  • Appointed to Labour’s front bench in her first term
  • Stood unsuccessfully in the Auckland central electorate in 2011 and 2014
  • Ranked 4th in Labour’s shadow cabinet in 2011 under David Shearer’s leadership
  • Ranked 5th in the shadow cabinet in 2014 under Andrew Little as spokesperson for Justice, Children, Small Business and Arts & Culture
  • Won the Mt Albert (Clark’s old electorate) by-election in February 2017
  • Elected Labour’s deputy leader in March 2017
  • Elected Labour’s leader in August 2017, which resulted in a dramatic turn-around for Labour in polls
  • Re-elected in Mt Albert in the September election, and helped Labour recover to a reasonable election result
  • Led Labour’s negotiation team to successfully form a government with NZ First and Greens
  • Sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 October 2017, aged 37.

So Ardern has extensive experience in politics, more than many MPs including John Key. She has been a Member of Parliament for nine years.

How does her age compare to others? Here’s some for comparison:

  • Hatshepsut – Pharoah of Egypt at age 29 (ruled for 20 years)

  • Alexander the Great – King of Macedonia at age 20, Pharoah of Egypt at 24, King of Persia at 26, King of Asia at 25
  • Qin Shi Huang – Emperor of China at age 13

  • Cleopatra – Queen of Ptolemaic Kingdom at age 39 (jointly ruled prior to that)
  • Constantine the Great – Roman Emperor at age 34
  • Alfred the Great – King of the Anglo-Saxons at age 22
  • Saladin – Sultan of Egypt and Syria at age 37
  • Akbar the Great – Moghul Emperor at age 14
  • Elizabeth I – Queen of England at age 25
  • Catherine the Great – Empress of Russia at age 33
  • Napoleon Bonaparte – First Consul of France at age 30, Emperor at at 35
  • Victoria – Queen of England at age 18
  • Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike – Prime Minister of Sri Lanka at age 44
  • Isabel Perón – President of Argentina at age 43
  • Benazir Bhutto – Prime Minister of Pakistan at age 35

Ardern’s age is not out of the ordinary for a leader of a country. She has a lot of background experience.

No one is experienced at being a country’s leader until they become one.

Ardern has stepped up to leadership roles successfully and looks capable of doing very well. Of course she is yet to prove herself, and that will take time as well as expertise, personality and a bit of luck. Her experience so far is useful, but her age should be immaterial.

I say ‘should be’, but it may depend on others, for example how well Winston Peters accepts being overshadowed by someone young enough to be his grandchild. If he is happy to serve the country under Ardern’s leadership this won’t be a problem.

I don’t see any potential problems with Ardern having age issues within the Labour caucus and Cabinet, and Greens are unlikely to have any problem with her age.

Now Ardern is Prime Minister and leading the country there should be plenty for people to comment about without bothering about her age or her past experience. What happens now is what is important.

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30 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  28th October 2017

    There used to be a saying in the farming world
    “If you haven’t got control of the chequebook by 30 you won’t go far”
    And there are plenty of examples to show the truth of this.
    Consequently I don’t see any problem with Miss Ardern’s age, I did worry that she had nothing much to show for her 9 years in Parliament but she has certainly made her mark since getting the top job.
    The other problem is her front bench which is notable for its lack of experience and a some lazy individuals, hopefully they or rather those who have to do the heavy lifting will step up for job and for New Zealand.
    Shane Jones, Grant Robertson, Nanaia Mahuta and David Parker will all bear watching.
    Let’s hope for a pleasant surprise, and no more earthquakes or financial meltdowns.

    Reply
    • Ray

       /  28th October 2017

      No need to panic!
      The ODT reports Heather Simpson is back from the UN and is “helping with the formation of the new Government”
      It is almost possible to feel sorry for any slackers on the front bench!

      Reply
      • Heather’s back?
        You right wingers are truly screwed now.
        Helen and Heather!
        I almost pity you.
        Almost.

        Reply
        • Ray

           /  28th October 2017

          Don’t think right wingers have anything to worry about Robert, lefty slackers though will have to lift their game or else, Heather does not take prisoners. The best they can hope for is a UN job.

          Reply
  2. robertguyton

     /  28th October 2017

    “Sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 October 2017, aged 37.”
    That’s gotta tell ya something!
    (In other words, achiever)

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th October 2017

      I don’t think she’s really actually achieved much yet. Crashing a Massey Fregusson possibly her most notable feat before now.

      But she’s certainly achieved now, having obviously just quietly decided to watch & wait, & then when the circumstances were right, to stop pissing about & go straight for one big one !

      Reply
  3. Gezza

     /  28th October 2017

    … a couple of years later she graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Studies (BCS) in politics and public relations. Since then: …
    Now you see how much the really smart ones actually learn about how to use what they studied, especially about communicating, messaging, subliminal influencing, targeting, marketing, interviewing, negotiating, coming up with slogans that work subtly, timing etc.

    Reply
  4. NOEL

     /  28th October 2017

    Age and experience factors now.? A change from the last weeks social media focus on her teeth.

    Reply
  5. barryglik

     /  28th October 2017

    While on OE in the UK got “work” with the UK Labour party
    via NZ Labour Party contacts (the old red tie privilege),
    while millions of Brits existed on job seekers allowance.
    While on more privileged OE appeared in a soup kitchen in New York.
    The token soup kitchen appearance by the rich and privileged
    has become sooo nauseatingly cringe worthy.

    Reply
  6. barryglik

     /  28th October 2017

    Being paid to hang out for years with successive
    cluelesss Labour party officials under pitifully weak
    party leaders like David “who was he already” Shearer
    and union rep Andrew ” I have made no impact” Little.
    “Appointed” to a high ranking list position.
    She also “wins” the can’t lose Mt Albert electorate.
    Helped Labour achieve a “reasonable” election result?
    Considering the new face gets new votes syndrome
    and that 4th terms are incredibly difficult to achieve
    being beaten comfortably by National was an outright failure.

    Reply
  7. barryglik

     /  28th October 2017

    Led successful post election negotiating team?
    No just followed the manic Winston Peters around but got lucky.
    If it was not for the flawed MMP system and
    the ego tripping madness that is Winston Peters
    PM Adern would be just another failed Labour PM.
    Risen without trace is not totally true but
    risen with out substance is most certainly true.

    Reply
  8. barryglik

     /  28th October 2017

    As for being a successful PM well all you need do is
    highlight successes and deflect failure else where,
    Auckland council using 240 spin doctors at a cost of
    240 mill comes to mind.
    Just hang in there till your luck runs out or
    you become bored with job.
    High profile appointments will follow you round
    post politics so relax and enjoy the ride.
    But then you know that already.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  28th October 2017

      wow..Glik..bait.

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th October 2017

      What were you predicting for the outcome of the election before the full horror of what it actually now is hit you, barry?

      Out of interest.

      Also, did you vote?
      (If you did, at least your opinion is worth a quick read before being discounted by neutral observers as too early to be given much weight.)

      Reply
      • barryglik

         /  28th October 2017

        Neutral observers? On a political blog 🙂 I am a Labour voter since 1978.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  28th October 2017

          That’s ok. I don’t tend to hold people’s tribal affiliations against them. I just try & figure out if they’ve got a grip on reality or whether their loyalties & homage to their rangatira, hapu & iwi make them too blinkered to be objective.

          Reply
          • barryglik

             /  28th October 2017

            Actually successfully balancing affiliations and loyalties while also being objective is a commendable characteristic to have. But if you want to win elections when others are telling porkies and promising paradise for free then
            informed balanced and realistic will not you elections win 😦

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  28th October 2017

              In my experience the best bet is not to have any because evidence abounds that any political party can & will go rogue on their supporters at any time to get or keep power.

            • Gezza

               /  28th October 2017

              And/Or to benefit themselves & their mates financially or thru lucrative sinecures or other highly paid jobs in other businesses or organisations, as well, of course.

        • barryglik

           /  28th October 2017

          My election prediction? Hoping for a miracle but expecting defeat and a 4th term of having our noses rubbed in it from the natural Governors.

          Reply
  9. Alan Wilkinson

     /  28th October 2017

    Previously the media had to write fluff pieces waiting for Winston to do something. Now they have to write fluff pieces waiting for the new Government to do something. I don’t see any reason to make judgements until that happens.

    So far we have an Auckland fuel tax. That’s probably going to be a political albatross with road users subsidising a money losing railway and many going out of the area however it is defined to fill up.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  28th October 2017

      I told u..10 c is neither here or there,at least a 20c disparity in Auck prices..already.

      Reply
      • David

         /  28th October 2017

        If 10c is neither here or there, you may as well then double the price eh?

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  28th October 2017

          no..but if the price is now 10c dearer,get a coupon with 10c..off.Try filling up in West Auckland compared to East Tamaki..big dif.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  28th October 2017

            Turnover, property price, sales patterns, competition, security and theft levels all affect pricing and profitability. But everywhere in the city will be some 5% dearer. If diesel is taxed at the same rate that will be some 10% added to fuel costs for transporting all our goods. If it isn’t, people will switch to diesel cars.

            Reply
  10. Zedd

     /  28th October 2017

    the list of ‘young leaders’ ; i note that most inherited their power, only a few won it politically.. but they did have to ‘step up’ to achieve goals

    methinks Jacinda will not ‘rule the roost’ so much as lead the team 🙂

    I did see the comment that she lost Akld-central twice(?) to natz N K, but i think thats was more about the wealthier demographic in that electorate, than ‘tricky Nikki’s’ political talent 😀

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th October 2017

      methinks Jacinda will not ‘rule the roost’ so much as lead the team 🙂

      True, but I get the impression that when it’s necessary she won’t have too many qualms about arranging concrete gumboots for problem members of the family who will disappear from view fairly quickly thereafter. Sometimes that’s just a wise thing to do as part of leading an unruly team. Just a feeling. Early days. We’ll see.

      Reply
  11. David

     /  28th October 2017

    “Volunteered in a soup kitchen in New York”

    How noble, was this for a whole day, or just the afternoon? Seriously, how long did she live in New York for given this is the only reference to this city in her list of ‘experience’.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  28th October 2017

      she should have done a 1hr tour of McGehen Close Mt Roskill with the media in..tow.

      Reply

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