What can Ardern achieve now?

Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for how she has dealt with the Christchurch mosque shootings. Deservedly. She has shown compassion and empathy with eloquence and ease. Setting an example she has helped quell angst and escalation, and led the nationwide surge of tolrance and understanding.

She has been a star, dissed only by a few black a-holes (and quibbles).

But now what for Ardern? Her government has a lot of other challenges to deal with. She needs to lead there as well ( and she could do with more of her Ministers stepping up as well).

Peter Dunne comments at Newsroom:  She’s no Trump, but is that enough?

Jacinda Ardern’s compassion and empathy makes her an appealing antidote to Donald Trump –  but can she translate that to a genuinely new way of approaching government after decades of the same pragmatic political mantra? asks Peter Dunne.

There has been much international admiration for the leadership style of the Prime Minister in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque killings, but very little attempt so far to place it in any sort of context.

Dunne then runs through an interesting look at New Zealand and world political history since the major changes in the 1980s.

More recently:

Third Way type government has muddled along in most Western countries ever since. Its original proponents have long since left the political stage, but no substantive new way of thinking about government has yet emerged.

The Clark and Key Governments followed broadly the same pragmatic mantra, even if Clark now claims that her reformist zeal was constrained by the exigencies of politics of the time. The English Government’s dalliance with social investment ideas offered the prospect of a new way, but that was snuffed out when that government was ousted after only a few months.

Liberalism had threatened a brief revival in Britain after 2010 but that was also short-lived, and there are questions today about how liberalism can get in tune again with societies that are becoming more polarised, and consequently less tolerant.

The election of Trudeau in Canada in 2015 briefly held out some hope, but was actually less a defining step than a return to the status quo after nine years of Conservative rule.

Similarly with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! movement. This centrist alternative sprung out of the French Socialist Party but the difficulties Macron has faced since coming to office suggest it may struggle to endure.

Ardern has been compared to Donald Trump.

The defining political event of the last couple of decades has been the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016. Whatever one thinks of his policies, his performance and his ethics, there is little doubt that he has shaken up the American political establishment unlike any other leader of modern times. In America, and elsewhere, politicians are now measured, invariably favourably, by the dubious standards Trump has brought to public office.

There’s some stark contrasts.

And here is where our Prime Minister shines, and becomes relevant. She is the anti-Trump in so many ways – female, not male; young not old; humble not arrogant; hard-working not lazy, warm not aloof; compassionate not disdainful; inclusive not divisive; a genuine person who is a unifier, not a narcissistic, egotist divider.

It is easy to see how she attracts the attention and admiration of the world in circumstances like Christchurch and its aftermath, given the absolute contrast she provides to Donald Trump.


At the same time, however, it is still a long stretch to suggest that she represents a substantive new thread in political discourse. She almost certainly does not, and nothing she has said or done to date suggests any great philosophical depth, or makes clear what she actually stands for beyond kindness. But that may not matter all that much.

In her first 18 months as Prime Minister Ardern hinted at a new way based on kindness, but hasn’t really delivered much in the way of significant reform yet.

After the search for new ideas of the last three decades, and their less than stellar outcomes, it is arguable that people are feeling more left out, and their interests more overlooked in our political settlement than ever before.

So we may well be entering a period where what matters most to people is compassion and empathy, and an identity with leaders who reflect that. In that regard, the Prime Minister’s perceived warmth and concern for the suffering meets the mood of the time. That is what gives her relevance, which is really all that matters. And while that perception remains, she will continue to prosper.

The bigger, yet to be answered question, though, is whether and how she will seek to use the opportunity that will provide her to effect significant change. That will provide the ultimate insight into the context in which she is operating.

After her performance over the past two weeks Ardern has a lot of political capital in the bank.

One of the biggest dampeners on real reform has been Winston Peters. He has been noticeably affected by the Christchurch shootings – he even admitted having made mistakes in the past.

Ardern could capitalise on the current situation and socialise – or more accurately, step rather than creep towards the social care side of the governing equation.

The economy and the Government books are in a good state, so there may be not better opportunity than now for Ardern to become a real progressive reformer, in actions rather than in rhetoric.

We may be headed towards a brand of regulated capitalism with more emphasise on empathy and kindness, if Ardern seizes the moment.