Jacinda Ardern: ‘no room for doubt’

When Jacinda Ardern was suddenly elevated to leader of the Labour party just seven weeks before last year’s election, she spoke and acted with aplomb. The media loved her and promoted her. Her performance during the campaign was mixed, but she succeeded in lifting Labour from a death spiral to a very creditable result.

And then Winston Peters elevated her to the role of Prime Minister in return for a deputy PM bauble, a position of arguably disproportionate power, and some significant policy agreements.

To me Ardern has shown sufficient competence in a difficult role to give some hope that she and her Government may do fairly well, if not very well. But it is early days in their tenure, and there is much could swing things either way.

Unfortunately for me Ardern’s initial openness and forthrightness has largely evolved into carefully measured sound bites that are often vaguely reassuring, to some. Her popularity continues.

But an interview with Toby Manhire shows more depth to her thinking and common sense and pragmatism to her actions than the normal glib news cycle reveals.

The Spinoff: ‘No room for doubt that I can do this’: the Spinoff meets Jacinda Ardern

There is quite a bit of fluff in the interview, but there are also some useful insights.

Has she had a chance to reflect on it all?

“I always said I was going to do that over summer, and then I just decided, over summer, to not think about anything,” says Ardern. “So, no, not really.”

On the baby stuff (and how she thinks things through carefully, something she didn’t have the chance to do when hoisted into the Labour leadership):

Ardern’s grandmother has been brought up a number of times in the couple of weeks since the pregnancy was revealed, implicitly sending an olive branch to those who have misgivings about the announcement. “I did think about how my grandma would have reacted. She probably would have questioned me juggling both things, a little bit. My grandma was a very traditional woman. But at the same time would want me to have kids. So a bit torn, probably.”

“To think: What would someone who doesn’t know me at all, who may have a slightly different view towards my leadership, how are they going to take this news? I really tried to think about it from that perspective. I think probably they’re looking for certainty. And the best way I can provide that is by providing a plan. And so that’s what I really thought through. How can I really demonstrate that, yes, amid all this happy news, I have a plan.

“That was quite important to me. Also because I wanted people to know that, given how soon it was after being elected, that I took this job really seriously. I felt like the best way to convey that was to show that I’d thought it all through, surprise or not.”

On becoming leader:

Six months ago today, Andrew Little quit the Labour leadership and endorsed Jacinda Ardern as his successor. After being unanimously elected by the caucus, her first public task as leader, with less than seven weeks to polling day, was before the cynics, scholars and cadavers of the parliamentary press gallery. It could hardly have gone better – assured, confident, witty. Did some kind of switch flick?

“No, I don’t think so. Unless you take the view that you’ve never seen it since,” she deadpans.

“I’d say it was always in me – it’s just what’s required of you is very different in the moment that you become leader. When you’re part of a team you defer and you’re there to support your leader.”

And there was no time to overthink it. “That was probably a good thing. I just came straight out of caucus and went down there, and I thought: the one thing people just need to get a sense of from me in this moment is that I can do this. And I’m not going to leave any room for doubt that I can do this… There was no time to be anything else, or anyone else, other than just who I was. Even the debates. You had a bit of debate prep time. Not much. So it meant that, if nothing else, people at least got authenticity.”

I think to a large extent we did see authenticity, mistakes and all. That has changed as her responses as Prime Minister often seem carefully expressed (PR speak).

Ardern erred tactically, however, in reversing Little’s pledge that any changes stemming from a tax working group would be held until after the 2020 election. That “captain’s call”, which left open the possibility of unknown tax changes, was a gift for National, which targeted Labour with ads that refashioned its “Let’s Do This” slogan into “Let’s Tax This”. Ardern folded her hand, reverting to the earlier position.

How does Ardern look back on that now. It was a cock-up, right?

“Do you know,” she says, intimating yes without actually saying it, “what I wish I had done is sat and thought through the timelines of all of that, because I’d said that I wanted to get it all done and dusted within a three-year period; I wanted there to be clarity over where we were going and I saw urgency over why we needed to do it. But if I’d sat down and thought: OK but what does that realistically going to look like, I would have quickly worked out that actually we would have been so close to the next election anyway that I could have gone through the process, got the work done, even put the legislation in, but still leave enough of an overhang for people to have their say. I wish I had thought that timeline through. But I still felt that really keen sense of urgency.”

On her not-a-state-of-the-nation speech:

“The State of the Nation feels really backward-facing to me. We spent the election campaign really canvassing where we were as a nation, deciding who had the mandate to change that up, going forward. But I think the challenge for us will be, as with any government, your actions demonstrate your legacy.

It will take some time, years, to properly judge here government’s actions.

“You know, when you think about the Kirk government or the Lange government, there’s often things that will come to mind. That’s not just about what you do, but how you do it. So in amongst it is your relationship with Māori, the reputation you build on the international stage, the way that you choose to operate, your transparency, how transformative you try to be – all of that builds into the kind of government you are. So I think the next stage is scene setting, a little bit, for the kind of government we want to be. Not leaving that to chance, being really deliberate about the things we want to achieve.”

Governments can be de,liberate about some things, but end up having to react to chance, to what is dished up. The Key government began under pressure of a New Zealand recession and then the Global Financial Crisis, which dictated much of it’s early actions. And then followed the third whammy of the Christchurch earthquakes. So much of it’s nine years was spent coping with disasters and steering the country to recovery.

Ardern may be lucky and not have to cope with such major inflictions, but every government has challenges largely out of their control.

On being transformative:

“Ultimately I do want us to be a transformative government. I want, when we’ve left, for people to say we’re not just clean-green any more, we’re carbon neutral, or we’re striving to be. That we genuinely have got things in place now that could make us the best place in the world to be a child. And that we have our international reputation back.”

An odd comment on our international reputation, unless that is just on care of children. She will be popular if she manages to make real transformations on the quality of life for the bottom couple of deciles of children.

A pragmatic idealist:

“We’re just going to be ourselves. I get this constant need to compare and find a mould. Because that makes it easier to determine what kind of government this is going to be. But we will be our own government. And I’m not modelling myself after any political leader. In particular I’ve got a very different set of circumstances that we’re having to govern under. I’m a pragmatic idealist. You have to be pragmatic when you’re in an MMP government.”

On switching from opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership and promoting large protests to an imminent signing of a slightly modified deal:

“But I think some of the fear dissipated when the United States left. I think that’s fair. And that wasn’t just symbolic. I think it’s roughly 20 provisions, off the top of my head, have been suspended since then.”

Staunch opponents like Jane Kelsey remain opposed, and partners in government the Greens remain opposed, but so far there is no sign of the protests that followed the initial agreement. Could this be called political pragmatism?

Ardern points to the removal of clauses around copyright and Pharmac, foreign ownership and the treaty. But New Zealand could not get ISDS scrapped.

“It is not a perfect agreement. And I will not tell people it’s a perfect agreement. But in all agreements you’re always weighing up the benefits versus the cost. And going forward now, we don’t want to keep having this debate around ISDS. We have side letters we’re still negotiating. I’ve already said Australia will be covered by that, which means 50% of our foreign direct investment through TPP countries will not have ISDS clauses applying to them. And we’re trying to get a few more of those. So we did our best.”

NZ First have flipped and will now support the TPP, but would have been in an awkward position if they didn’t, as National would have voted with Labour to get a clear majority in Parliament in favour.

On Waitangi (Ardern is spending five days there up to Waitangi day):

“One of my frustrations, the entire time I’ve been a politician, and I’ve only missed a couple of Waitangi Days, is I just don’t feel like there’s a true sense of the celebrations up there being broadcast. Yes, sometimes there’s protest. There’s robust discussion. But by and large it’s a celebratory event with a really nice feel to it, where lots of people come and participate, lots of kids, and the longer I’m there perhaps the more people might see of that. Perhaps.”

Her engagement over several days there may dissipate the usual protest – but it’s likely any attack on a popular and pregnant Prime Minister would not go down well.

On emulating “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chants at Glastonbury (to the tune of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army)  at her appearance at Laneway).

“That will not happen. That will not happen. Firstly, I’m not that presumptuous to ever assume that that would spontaneously happen.” You could start it? “I don’t think it works like that”

Political manipulators are always trying to engineer ‘spontaneous’ popularity.

“Secondly, I’m there as the gates open. No one goes to Laneway right at the beginning – a few die-hard fans who really want to see the opening acts. And, thirdly, I’m not delivering some watershed speech. I’m literally welcoming everyone there, and acknowledging the artists and the audiences… I’ve been enough to know that it will be a passing moment in time.”

She has no need to get a Laneway crowd to chant ‘Oh, Jacinda Ardern’. The media have been doing that well enough already.

Ardern has earned some praise and support, but she has had an easy ride so far with the media, and that has made her challenges easier to rise to than for most leaders and Prime Ministers.

She is likely to continue to get huge media interest in her pregnancy, birth and baby. That will help divert from the graft of government so may help in some ways, but it may also pile pressures on her as she faces two major challenges, being a Prime Minister and becoming a mother. Both can have highs, but both can also have lows.

She will receive levels of attention over her pregnancy never seen before in New Zealand – probably on a scale normally heaped the royals in the UK.

But Ardern is not a pandered privileged princess, she is also a Prime Minister.

She will have one foot firmly on a pregnancy/baby pedestal, and another on a wobblier three legged political pedestal that some will be trying to topple.

It will be a fascinating year observing. Ardern may have no time to doubt for the next few months, but once she has a baby she may start to wonder what she has gotten herself in to.

55 Comments

  1. A very good article Pete. I’ll leave it at that before I’ve had a good caffeine infusion.

  2. Blazer

     /  February 3, 2018

    sounds like an each way bet re Ardern….As for the reference to the Key govt and the tedious GFC/earthquake praise….be sure..that,that administration will be remembered as the Govt that destroyed forever the Kiwi Dream…of..home ownership.

    • artcroft

       /  February 3, 2018

      Fake news.

    • PDB

       /  February 3, 2018

      You obviously missed the discussion where it was shown houses became ‘unaffordable’ under Clark’s Labour govt…the same govt that greatly increased the amount of dairy farms but unlike the following National govt did basically nothing to ensure protection of the waterways.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 3, 2018

        No, he didn’t miss it. He just ignores it because he likes to spout crap and doesn’t care a jot about facts or truth. The Left accuse Trump of the same attitude but B has it worse because he will repeat his falsehoods no matter how often the facts pointed out to him.

        • Blazer

           /  February 3, 2018

          Ave Auck house price 2008=$510,000
          ……………………………..2017=$928,000

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  February 3, 2018

            Avg Auck house price 2001=$248,500
            …………………………2008=$510,000
            106% increase compared with your 82% increase.

            • Blazer

               /  February 3, 2018

              figure out which is more affordable…510k or 928k…its shouldn’t be hard.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 3, 2018

              On that basis since it has continued to rise under Labour, Adern is now responsible for the destruction of the Kiwi Dream.

            • Blazer

               /  February 3, 2018

              it hasn’t…though..you have NFI…as Griff showed when he spanked you the…other..day.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 3, 2018

              More crap:

              The sense of urgency to buy a property regardless of its asking price has disappeared.

              “It has been replaced by buyers taking a more considered approach.

              “Normally when sale numbers fall by such a large percentage, prices retreat from their record high levels.

              “But this has not occurred, and prices have continued to rise modestly.

              “It underlines there is still buyer support at current prices.

              “In part, this was aided by the recent release of new capital values by the Council as sellers and buyers have the same information as to the potential value of a property.

              “In December we sold 674 homes, a number in line with the number we sold each month for the previous three months.

              “However, the average sales price for December at $939,871 was 2.6 percent higher than the average for the previous three months and the fourth highest on record.

              “The median price in December at $870,000 was 3.6 percent higher than that for the previous three months and the second highest on record.

              https://www.barfoot.co.nz/market-reports/2017/december/market-update

            • Blazer

               /  February 3, 2018

              hey desperado ..a 10k price increase since change of govt is neither here nor..there..B&T spruiking as are lawyers,and the usual…suspects.

            • Similar understanding of economics to W R Peters… who me overpaid by being over $40,000 over a 7-year period? Didn’t see it🤡

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  February 3, 2018

      God you are tedious. Did Key turn you down for something at som stage in your life. Your bitterness is incredible

    • PartisanZ

       /  February 4, 2018

      I’m with Prof Jane Kelsey on this subject: The Fifth Labour [Clark] Govt, like the Fourth National [Bolger-Shipley] Govt before and Fifth National [Key] Govt after it, were mere managers of the FIIRE economy – instituted by the Fourth Labour [Lange-Douglas] Govt – and an economy that’s two-fifths to one-half dependent on Real Estate can do little else than continually inflate the price of it …

  3. sorethumb

     /  February 3, 2018

    What many upper-class Americans think of as cosmopolitanism and sophistication, many working-class Americans see as callous snobbery
    http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/we-need-to-talk-about-class/20938#.WnTDg3VubCI
    Adern is a mirror of John Key (smile and wave). My friend spoke to Megan Woods during the election campaign (street corner). She didn’t think we had too many migrants.

    • sorethumb

       /  February 3, 2018

      Cosmopolitanism is seen as a sign of sophistication. But in fact, it’s a sign of privilege. It means that you went to university, you met people from all over the world and you have an international network and international opportunities. If you didn’t go to university, and your prospects don’t depend on an international network, but a small group of friends, then you’re going really to value that social solidarity. And you’ll be profoundly shocked that the PME (professional-managerial elite) doesn’t seem to feel any responsibility to other people from their own country. This is just shocking and hurtful – something which, by the way, led to Brexit.
      http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/we-need-to-talk-about-class/20938#.WnTDg3VubCI

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 3, 2018

        Good points. While the elite travel the world at will the rest are manipulated into supporting barriers to their own migration and travel.

  4. Corky

     /  February 3, 2018

    For me Jacinda doesn’t come into the equation…it’s all about National. She has a similar popularity to Key, with a baby to boot. If National don’t get things right, from leader, to front bench, to issue manipulation, they will remain in opposition floundering for relevance just as Labour did.

    When you have a government paying your power bill, you will need something mighty good to counter that.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 3, 2018

    Still waiting for her to do something other than smile and get pregnant. But perhaps doing nothing is her strong point and strategy. Keeps focus on the trivial and aspirational.

    • Gezza

       /  February 3, 2018

      Wait’ll that bloody clown takes over when she has the baby. Then you’ll really have something to grizzle about.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 3, 2018

        Still waiting to hear what Winston did for Northland other than get voted out and create a Government dedicated to stopping infrastructure investment and preventing development and innovation while increasing tax, welfare and racial discrimination.

        • PDB

           /  February 3, 2018

          Didn’t he set up a couple of NZL First offices in the area thus providing two part-time roles for a couple of pensioners? Gotta give the man his dues.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  February 3, 2018

            What will happen when she can’t fly because she’s too far along to go on a plane and there is something that needs her to be there ?

            • Gezza

               /  February 3, 2018

              RNZAF?

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 3, 2018

              That’s still flying-not recommended after a certain time. One plane is no safer than another, and as an ‘elderly primagravida’ she needs to take care.

            • Gezza

               /  February 3, 2018

              And Kelvin can step up & sort out any probs in the party before they turn into fist fights with National’s front bench.

            • Gezza

               /  February 3, 2018

              She could rent a bed-sit in Newtown?

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 3, 2018

              Ehhhh ???

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 3, 2018

              Are there still bedsits ? They always looked such fun in old English sitcoms like The Liver Birds. I wanted to live in one.

  6. PDB

     /  February 3, 2018

    The hypocrisy of the new govt…

    This: ” Extending paid parental leave has a range of positive impacts in terms of child development and fostering parent-infant attachment.” “Lees-Galloway said: “The whole purpose of paid parental leave is to provide space for the baby and their primary caregiver to bond. Because we know that attachment between the baby and the primary caregiver is one of the most important things for the baby’s development.”

    Compared to this: “The Prime Minister revealed on Friday she is pregnant with her first child. She will take six weeks off after the baby arrives, which is expected to be in June”.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 3, 2018

      But Jacinda is the Left’s primary caregiver, not her baby’s.

      • PDB

         /  February 3, 2018

        Considering in reality Winston is leading the new govt she should just take three years off.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 3, 2018

        Truth hurts, down-tickers?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  February 3, 2018

          Pants, Labour also dismissed the idea that fathers were needed in the first few months of junior’s life-how does Jacinda explain away that one ?

          I am very dubious about tthe timing of this baby, especially as it needed medical intervention.It would have been a real risk to reveal it before the election, as there are many people who, like me, see real problems with a PM who has a new baby. The idea that many women have both careers and children is trotted out, but most women are not the PM. What if she has complications ? Or post-natal depression ? I hope that there will be neither, of course, but what if there are ?

  7. Zedd

     /  February 3, 2018

    All the ‘naysayers’ are still in denial; Lab/NZF/Grns ARE now the Govt. of Aotearoa/NZ.. get over yourselves Tories.. 😀

    “Go Jacinda !!.. you good thing”

    • PDB

       /  February 3, 2018

      Quite the opposite Zedd – they are the govt and floundering about for all to see. Only the strong economy inherited from National is keeping them afloat at present (and borrowing more when now is the time to pay down debt) considering their ‘go-to’ of hiking working people taxes to pay for their scatter-gun approach to spending is on hold.

      For your sake lets hope the baby ‘bump’ can hide all the problems coming our way.

      • Blazer

         /  February 3, 2018

        ‘Only the strong economy inherited from National ‘…how many times do you have to be told…National contributed near zilch to a strong economy.

        • PDB

           /  February 3, 2018

          Don’t agree with you but I’d like to point out that often a govt doing ‘nothing’ does the economy far better than a govt always meddling with the economy.

      • robertguyton

         /  February 3, 2018

        “For your sake lets hope the baby ‘bump’ can hide all the problems coming our way.”
        In the same way Key’s toothy smile did?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  February 3, 2018

          He doesn’t have a toothy smile-you are confusing him with Miss Ardern.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  February 3, 2018

            Look up photos of him smiling-there are none of him with every tooth in his head on display.

            • robertguyton

               /  February 3, 2018

              You can be catty, Kitty. I looked up photos of Key and saw him grasping the pony-tail of some poor girl – couldn’t see all his teeth, sure, but you can’t with a leer. See, Kit, catty’s easy.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 3, 2018

              Hardly a leer, and if he was going to leer, he’d be a fool to do it so publicly. I saw a laugh, but then I know what a leer looks like. Poor girl, indeed; by all accounts she is a real attention-seeker who seriously annoyed the customers. I wouldn’t accept a meal that was totally different to what I’d ordered because the waitress thought that I should have something else. John Key was being playful, and the silly tart-whose politics were a bit of a give-away as to her motive-made a great fuss over this.

            • No, not that “girl”, Kitty, a much younger girl. There were no images of the waitress being tugged by Key, were there?
              “John Key was being playful, and the silly tart…”
              You need help, Kit.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 3, 2018

              Well, she is one. What would you do if a waitress brought you a different meal to the one you had ordered because she thought that her idea was better ? Or hung around smarming and tip-dancing ?

              I know that some people think that any physical contact between people of the opposite sex must have sexual overtones, but it’s not the case. Not all men think about nothing else when they see a female of any age. Strange as it might seem, most of the time it’s just friendly.

              Would any PM be that stupid, anyway , even if he was a dirty old man, which John Key isn’t ? He’s not Donald Trump. You make it sound as if he was groping someone. As I said, not all people see contact as sexual.

            • robertguyton

               /  February 3, 2018

              ” What would you do if a waitress brought you a different meal to the one you had ordered because she thought that her idea was better ? Or hung around smarming and tip-dancing ?”
              “Pull her pony-tail” wasn’t an option that leapt into my head, Kitty – did it yours?

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 4, 2018

              No, I don’t have your fixation on ponytails. How many times have you dragged this into a discussion ?

              What would you do if you ordered pizza or fish and chips and the waitress brought you a vegetarian meal because she thought it was better for you ?

            • robertguyton

               /  February 4, 2018

              “No, I don’t have (a) fixation on ponytails”
              Well someone does (someone beginning with “Sir”).
              “What would you do if you ordered pizza or fish and chips and the waitress brought you a vegetarian meal because she thought it was better for you ?”
              Assault her? Is that the correct Tory response?

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 4, 2018

              One might be forgiven for thinking that you had this fixation, as you keep bringing it up when it’s irrelevant to what’s being talked about.

              This waitress was known for doing that to customers. If she brought me a meat dish when I had ordered a vegetarian one because she didn’t think that being a vegetarian was healthy, I would make a complaint to the manager, of course. Under no circumstances would I feel obliged to pay for it.

              You might feel that assault was the correct response, but it isn’t.

  8. Do you have daughters Robert?

  1. Jacinda Ardern: ‘no room for doubt’ — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition