Jacinda Ardern – the intuitive leader

Great leaders have good instincts for their time.

Jacinda Ardern has a long way to go to prove herself as a good leader overall, there is a lot of things for her Government to do before she gets there. But in how she handled the Christchurch mosque massacres she has proven to be an adept intuitive leader under pressure.

Toby Manhire (Guardian) – Jacinda Ardern: ‘Very little of what I have done has been deliberate. It’s intuitive’

I have been asking Ardern about her immediate response to the attack, which from the outset put a clear emphasis on inclusivity and solidarity. Succinctly, steelily, the prime minister framed what had happened in her own terms. It felt very deliberate: was it?

Not so much, Ardern says. “Very little of what I have done has been deliberate. It’s intuitive. I think it’s just the nature of an event like this. There is very little time to sit and think in those terms. You just do what feels right.”

That’s how it came across (to I think most people) – as natural and genuine, and not contrived as many politicians seem to be.

Ardern says she has been taken aback by the volume of press coverage over the past weeks, the scrutiny of her every word. “The conversations about it afterwards – I’ve read these pieces where people have analysed the likes of this [speech],” she says, waving the A4 sheet of notes in her hand, grimly laughing. “This was my first press conference. The second press conference I wrote on my phone on the way to Wellington.”

It’s obvious she wouldn’t have had much time to prepare.

Towards the end of her Waitangi speech, she had quoted Michael Savage, the venerated Labour statesman who led the party to government for the first time in 1935: “We don’t claim perfection, but what we do claim is a considerable advance on the past.” It’s a line that Ardern had rolled out in at least three big recent speeches, and felt, in part, like a plea to dial down the Jacindamania – a call to pragmatism.

“I am a pragmatic idealist,” she told me. “I will always strive for better. But I am pragmatic about how much time that sometimes takes.” The optimism tends to win out. “The alternative option is that we come out and say, for instance, on child poverty, that we’ve got these really minimalist targets. And have people say, ‘Where’s your ambition?’”

It’s a long article, worth reading to get a better understanding of how Ardern ticks.

I keep wondering what she could do as a leader if she had a stronger support crew in her Cabinet and her party. Maybe they will improve, inspired be their leader.

Manhire concludes:

At Waitangi in early February, I had asked Ardern about the international attention she had attracted – for being young, for being a new mother. It just wasn’t something she thought about, she said, hardly at all. Of course she needed to project New Zealand’s voice, but her focus was on domestic priorities. Today, in the most appalling circumstances imaginable, she has the world’s ear. What would she like to see other nations, other leaders, draw from New Zealand’s experiences?

“Humanity. That’s it. Simple,” she says, nodding her head. “People have remarked upon the way we’ve responded, but to me there was no question. You need to remove some of the politics sometimes and just think about humanity. That’s all.”

I hope that more of our politicians do more humanity and less politics.


Ardern risks being hoist by her own celebrity PR petard

Jacinda Ardern has received international attention since becoming Prime Minister. Some of this is legitimate news, but some of it seems to be jacked up PR, usually more personal pap than political analysis.

This probably shouldn’t be unexpected, international media seems more interested in superficial celebration of so-called celebrities generally, and there is usually little interest in New Zealand politics.

But what is Ardern trying to achieve? She is receiving attention, but she risks being entrenched as a superficial celebrity without political substance.

She should try to sort out her leadership and Government in New Zealand before taking on the world.

Ardern seems to have favoured status at the UK Guardian which at times seems to be a PR arm of Ardern’s office. here are some recent efforts:

Is she planning on standing for election in the United Kingdom?

And not just Ardern, her partner Clarke Gayford is amping the PR as well.

And, suggested by some as preparation for a trip to the United States, Ardern has featured in a New York Times promotion:


Lady of the Rings: Jacinda Rules

Jacinda Ardern, one of the young, progressive leaders countering Donald Trump, talks about being only the second world leader to give birth.

Global hype continues to paint Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a cliche

Jacinda Ardern was an MP for nine years before becoming Labour’s saving grace.

Yet a new piece the in New York Times was still focused on her shorts-wearing partner and the happiness club she founded when she was eight.

Well-known for her coverage inside the Trump White House, columnist Maureen Dowd labelled Ardern as “Lady of the Rings”.

In an instant, Dowd meshed together a retrograde label with a 15-year-old movie reference and proved we haven’t moved past the shallow caricatures that have come to define us as a nation.

It just seems the international media can’t get past our leader’s novelty value.

Dowd presents our PM as having perpetual sunniness and being someone who would call Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then yell: “OMG, Justin! Are you seeing this?”.

But where is the political meat you would expect from sit-down interviews with an international leader?

The real “Jacindamania” is not the rush of enthusiasm that swept her into leadership.

Rather, it’s the permanent psychosis that has taken hold of global media, preventing real debate of our country’s policies and role in the world.

It leaves Ardern battling a caricature of herself and New Zealand still stuck at the kids’ table where we are described through the lens of a “hip” liberal leader and, inevitably, a few Lord of the Rings references.

Based on the myriad of international media coverage, she is just that unwed working mother representing the “anti-Trump” in the Trumpian age.

Reporters with extraordinary access like Dowd should use that privilege to ask real questions to inform.

Everything else is a disservice.

So why would Ardern go along with this sort of lightweight coverage?

Gayford is a willing partner in this:

 In a sartorial triumph, Ardern wore a feathered Maori cloak to meet Queen Elizabeth at a black-tie dinner in London.

“It was highly coveted among the princesses at the dinner,” Ardern’s partner, Clarke Gayford, told me. “They made a beeline for her, and I’m surprised she managed to leave wearing it, to be completely honest.”

The boyish and charming Gayford, the 40-year-old host of a TV fishing show who smiles with delight no matter how many times he is asked “Is Jacinda your greatest catch?” would be the stay-at-home dad who would show the way for modern men.

She calls Gayford Huckleberry Finn, because he often wears shorts, even for interviews, and wanders around with a fishing pole.

On another day, when I came to interview Gayford, Ardern’s mother, Laurell, is there, helping with the baby.

President Trump will be presiding over the United Nations Security Council when the General Assembly meets in New York later this month. The prime minister will be trying to combine mothering and traveling again, this time hopefully with less ludicrous commentary. She will be juggling more than 40 events in seven days, with Neve and Gayford as part of the entourage.

Gayford also appears to be embracing the celebrity style coverage.

She (Dowd) gets what? She gets how Ardern and Gayford want to be seen, as a modern celebrity couple and parents who manage to fit in a bit of running the country when not being interviewed by sycophant reporters?

Like a significant number of Americans will support Trump no matter how crazy he seems, Ardern is sure to keep a solid level of support in New Zealand based on her celebrity (Woman’s Weekly) style coverage.

But if she continues to look subservient to Winston Peters, and fails to deliver on her promises to deal to child poverty and other ‘revolutions’ that are little more than empty rhetoric so far, and if she fails to live up to her claims of being open and transparent (she has been severely challenged on that lately), she may find that her party’s popularity doesn’t hold up as well as her celebrity status.

Ardern may find it difficult to move from celebrity saccharine to serious leadership. She may end up being hoist by her own celebrity PR petard.

Odd claim of Gayford rumour – by Gayford

And odd comment from Clarke Gayford in a Guardian interview about rumours, repeated by NZH: Clarke Gayford on vicious rumours and raising a baby with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

It’s odd for a number of reasons, that it has come via a Guardian interview (Jacinda Ardern has featured in the Guardian before), that Gayford has kept the rumour mill alive, but mostly that he mentions a rumour that there seems to be no evidence of.

Clarke Gayford has revealed he’s been forced to tone down his social media behaviour after being smeared as the subject of a false rumour campaign.

It would have been prudent for Gayford to ‘tone done’ when Ardern became Prime Minister regardless of inevitable rumours.

Gayford, in an interview with Britain’s the Guardian, said the saga had forced him to make changes.

“If I talk about it now, it just pours more petrol on it.”

And he has talked about it to the Guardian.

But he had felt compelled to rein in having “a good rant on Facebook” and had felt “like a right chump” having to edit his own Wikipedia page to remove another false rumour – that he had once been a police cadet, the Guardian reported.

Here it is in the Guardian interview: Clarke Gayford on fatherhood, food and fending off sharks

What was it like to be smeared?

“If I talk about it now, it just pours more petrol on it,” he says. But the instinct to watch his behaviour, already instilled by a life in the media, have been sharpened since meeting Ardern four years ago. While he’s had to rein in his enthusiasm for “a good rant on Facebook” – and has felt “like a right chump” editing his own Wikipedia page because the fake news that he was once a police cadet kept coming up in interviews – he keeps coming back to the “higher cause” of social justice and environmental action he sees Ardern getting on with.

However Graeme Edgeler can’t find any evidence that the rumour appear on Wikipedia.

I haven’t heard the police cadet rumour anywhere before. This seems an odd claim by Gayford.

Perhaps Gayford should consider reigning in his Guardian interviews. It’s hard to understand him doing  interviews like this – does he think he will get international sympathy without getting any attention in New Zealand? He must understand how the Internet works.

Ardern does more homely interviews

Reinforcing her image as a celebrity focussed politician, Jacinda Ardern has struggled with a number of real issues over the last fortnight, but has managed to find the time for magazine type interviews.

Amanda Hooton really lays it on in 48 hours with Jacinda: warm, earnest, accessible – is our PM too good to be true?

She spends the next 10 minutes doing a series of unscripted, perfect-first-time clips for social media. Then, obviously changing her mind, she pulls her dark floral shift dress off.

She’s wearing a modest black slip underneath, but still, I’m glad I’m not Charles Wooley. She puts on the pink T-shirt, then records a welcome to Splore. Smiling into the camera, she apologises that she can’t be present in person, and says she’s looking forward to seeing someone dressing up “in a brown wig, Labour rosette and pregnancy gut”.

So, fruit juice, partial strip, self-parody. We’ve seen and heard a great deal about Ardern since she became prime minister last October, but clearly, there’s more to the world’s youngest elected head of government (until she was pipped by the new 31-year-old Austrian chancellor in December) than meets the eye.

Let’s not forget that Ardern performed a political miracle last October. Amid an international climate of disastrous defeats for social democratic politics – the US, UK, France, and Italy have all rejected their centre-left parties in the past 18 months alone – this 37-year-old woman led the Labour party to victory after almost a decade in the political wilderness, having taken over the leadership less than eight weeks earlier.

…[lengthy puff piece]…

ime will tell whether she has the political intelligence, endurance and luck to navigate this; if she has the ability to lead the nation safely through the shoal waters of 21st century politics.

Still, in a world in which we’re increasingly expected to accept alternative facts, and indefinite strongman rule, and threatening, isolationist policies from world leaders, it’s nice to be offered something – and someone – different to believe in. As Ardern puts it, barefoot in her modest house: “I don’t think too much about the magnitude of the job.

I just immediately skip to, ‘Let’s get the plan going.'”

And in perparation for her frist trip as PM to England Ardern features in the Guardian’s Jacinda Ardern on life as a leader, Trump and selfies in the lingerie department

It’s just gone lunchtime in New Zealand’s largest city and Jacinda Ardern arrives at her two-bedroom suburban home after a primary school meet and greet.

The 37-year-old prime minister of New Zealand and poster woman of progressive politics is sitting in the passenger seat of a blue Subaru, craving a muesli bar and wearing woollen shoes that look like slippers.

This time last year Ardern was known as a young opposition MP with a passion for eradicating child poverty – in fact she could rather bang on about it. She had a well-stocked whisky cabinet, frequently popped up at music gigs, and would return journalists’ phone calls within minutes, at pretty much any hour of the day or night.

Fast forward and Ardern is now the leader of the country, six months pregnant and seeking advice on how to juggle milk bottles and briefings from Barack Obama.

And struggling to deal with a cranky Foreign Minister with his own agenda, Young Labour camps, an MP from a a coalition partner party threatening an opposition MP, defending a Minister responsible for the resignation of a popular journalist, and stuffing around while allies take strong action over the alleged Russian poisoning scandal.

Fast forward to the end of the article.

Ardern appears to envision an increasingly independent country – contemplating a possible break from the motherland, seeking a louder voice on the world stage, and embracing New Zealand’s unique Pacific history and identity.

“On major issues, on things like climate change, or even nuclear issues, our view has been, and should be important,” she says. “[I’ve] never felt that diminished New Zealand’s view just because we are small and geographically isolated.

“I think our approach to life is the same approach in politics. We’re a very pragmatic people, perhaps because of our isolation, we tend to be pretty inventive as well. We’re not ones to say something is too hard, so when we’re confronted with challenges, be they big or small, we tend to tackle them head on, and without much question – we just get on with it.”

Ardern has been pretty inventive when it comes to getting celebrity style magazine publicity, but there are already serious doubts about her handling of hard issues.

“We just get on with it” may look like a good sound bite, but Ardern and her government have a long way to go to prove that they can walk the talk.

The taniwha dilemma

It’s difficult to know how to deal with Taniwha stories.

On one hand there are thoughts of showing respect for Maori customs.
And on the other there’s an inclination to call aout old superstitions.

Taniwha are a bit like Irish leprechauns, but there seems to be a general reluctance to laugh at taniwha so as not to offend anyone. We are now in an age of Maori Correctness.

There is also the difficulty of definition – what exactly is a taniwha? It’s not ‘a thing’, it can be various things.



(noun) water spirit, monster, chief, something or someone awesome – taniwha take many forms from logs to reptiles and whales and often live in lakes, rivers or the sea. They are often regarded as guardians by the people who live in their territory.


In Māori mythology, taniwha are beings that live in deep pools in rivers, dark caves, or in the sea, especially in places with dangerous currents or deceptive breakers. They may be considered highly respected kaitiaki (protective guardians) of people and places, or in some traditions as dangerous, predatory beings, which for example would kidnap women to have as wives.

So who’s meaning it is and how the meaning is used can make it confusing.

In the current context of taniwha guardianship over water, are taniwha:

  • highly respected spiritual kaitiaki (protective guardians) of waterways?
  • predatory beings, which for example would hijack a political process for financial gain?

So the crux of the dilemma is:

There are people who genuinely believe in old spiritual legends, and there are people who use any advantage they can to extort a financial advantage.

And it’s difficult to tell them apart.

Are we confused, or are we being exploited?