How ‘electable’ is Jacinda Ardern?

There have been many claims and assertions by media about how Jacinda Ardern will enhance Labour’s election chances.

Media either:

  • precipitated the retirement announcement of Annette King and the promotion of Jacinda Ardern as King’s replacement as Labour’s deputy leader
  • executed the promotion of Ardern (and demotion of King) as tools of either camp Ardern or camp Labour.

Either way (some) media were willing political activists rather than journalists. This isn’t good for democracy in New Zealand.

And this quickly escalated into promoting Ardern as leader of Labour – see Media coup of Labour leadership.

Tim Murphy is “Reporter, Editor – . ‘If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither’ – Russian proverb”. Yesterday he tweeted, and I responded:

I presume Murphy had his opinion hat on when he tweeted that, and not his reporter or editor hats.I note that ‘facile’ means “ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial”.

How ‘electable’ is Ardern? The future is unknown, but the past doesn’t back up Murphy’s facile assertion.

  • She lost the safe National electorate, Waikato, by about 13,000 votes but got into Parliament via a remarkably high list placement (20) for a new candidate.
  • She moved to Auckland Central in 2011 and lost what had been a long time Labour seat up until 2008 to Nikki Kay by 717 votes, despite what looks like thousands of Green party votes shifting to her in the electorate vote.
  • In 2014 she lost in Auckland Central again to Kaye, this time by 600 votes. She was also helped substantially by Green tactical voting.
  • She stood as Grant Robertson’s deputy in Labour’s leadership contest in October 2014. They lost.
  • She moved to Mt Albert, one of Labour’s safest seats, for the 2017 by-election and won easily but with no National opponent and with favourable media coverage, and she got about half the voles David Shearer had got in the 2014 election and several thousand fewer than Shearer got in the 2009 by-election.

So apart from being gifted high list placings and being gifted a safe Labour electorate last month Ardern doesn’t have a record of electability.

Ardern is likely to win again easily in Mt Albert in this year’s general election but that is not due to her particular electability – Andrew Little could also probably win a safe Labour seat like that easily if he chose to stand.

But Ardern is now being promoted as enhancing the electability of Labour. Under MMP the party vote is all important.

How has she helped Labour in the past? Not a lot by the look of party voting in Auckland Central:

  • 2008 – Labour 34.55%, Greens 15.47%
  • 2011 – Labour 25.11%, Greens 22.79%
  • 2014 – Labour 21.67%, Greens 22.17%

Greens had the same candidate in all three of those elections, Denise Roche.

Look at the number of party votes for Labour in Auckland Central:

  • 2008 (Tizard) 12,166
  • 2011 (Ardern) 8,590
  • 2014 (Ardern) 6,101

So Labour’s party vote has halved since Ardern stood in Auckland Central.

Her history of enhancing Labour’s electability doesn’t look good.

Of course things are different now. Ardern is in her ninth year in Parliament, under her fifth leader. She has worked on her public profile. Perhaps she can enhance Andrew Little’s electability. That appears to be the plan, and what media have taken to promoting.

One thing that Ardern has succeeded at is getting media on her side. They (quite a few journalists) are giving her a lot of help. Like Murphy.

As many have pointed out, this promotion of Ardern without any history of electoral success to support it, has risks for Labour.

The voters may not share the same enthusiasm as some journalists for Ardern’s as yet unfulfilled potential (although the media promotion of Ardern as a celebrity politician is likely to have some effect).

Deputy leaders are generally virtually ignored in elections – all the attention is given to the leaders. Of course the media are indicating that this may change with Ardern because they seem to have given up on Little already.

Another problem is also apparent – if Ardern continues to be promoted as Labour’s next leader this could get chaotic in an election campaign.

Would Labour bow to media pressure and dump Little before the election? That is more likely to be disastrous rather than strategic genius.

If Ardern is made more popular than Little this could get very awkward for Labour and  could reduce the party’s electability. Voters may choose to wait until Little’s Labour loses, expecting that that will result in his dumping in favour of Ardern.

Of course the media may not care about how unelectable Labour might become.

Their obsession with personalities and with celebrity politics, and their drive to put news website clicks ahead of fair and sensible democratic processes may dominate their coverage of Ardern and Labour this election.

There were already signs last year that some media and pundits were writing off Labour’s chances under Little’s leadership.

This seems to be a factor in the media moves towards celebrity politics. Ardern may benefit, but democracy will suffer – especially if the end result is Labour crashing this election.

Ardern may remain ‘electable’ in the safe Mt Albert electorate, but Labour are at real risk here.

Politics and government dominated by one party is not good for democracy, nor is it good for the country – and it won’t be good for political media either, because the likely result is further loss of public interest in politics.