Jacinda Ardern: From distant star to Prime Minister

by Glen Scanlon / 19 October, 2017
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 Jacinda Ardern on election night. Photo / Getty ImagesChoose your adjective: stratospheric; meteoric; breakneck - maybe a bit lucky too. After all, timing is everything.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has gone from a rising, but still pretty distant, political star to New Zealand's second youngest prime minister - all in a little over 10 weeks.

Her background is pretty well-known now: sometime DJ, grew up in Mormon family, schooled in Morrinsville, self-described nerd and a Labour Party member since her teens. She grafted, working for Phil Goff and Helen Clark in Wellington, travelling overseas for a stint in London, where she worked as a policy adviser in the UK Cabinet Office, and served as president of the International Union of Socialist Youth.

In her first election, in 2008, she was unsuccessful as the candidate in Waikato, but got voted in via the party list, making her then the youngest sitting MP. She won a landslide victory in the Mt Albert by-election at the start of the year, with 77 percent of the vote.

As August heaved into view she had been Labour's deputy leader since Annette King stepped aside in March. The electorate itself was preparing for a boring election, with National well ahead in the polls, but a series of resignations put paid to that.

Ardern was propelled to the Labour leadership when Andrew Little took one too many looks at the polls and did the honourable thing.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern (left) with her deputy Kelvin Davis (centre) shortly after she was announced as Labour leader. Photo / Rebekah Parsons-King.

 In the second week of August the Greens helped out, with co-leader Metiria Turei resigning after the ruckus involving her admission she had committed benefit and vote fraud. United Future leader Peter Dunne was next, as Labour's Greg O'Connor raided his fiefdom in Ōhāriu.

Ms Ardern started off strong, dealing with the Turei affair deftly and exuding a confident, positive outlook. The polls showed a bump - some even showed Labour leading.

Politics was suddenly interesting again. National's ministers passed faint praise, saying she was "presentable and competent". The hatchet wasn't ready for its run yet.

The honeymoon period sailed on but floundered on the rocks of Labour's tax policy. National made hay with this and then some fibs around Labour's budgeting skills - an '$11.7 billion hole', they bellowed. No, Ms Ardern smiled back.

The leaders debates were a mixed affair - National's Bill English crying stability and common sense; 'stick with success you know' was the line. Ms Ardern said that was getting stale and New Zealanders wanted a change.

NZ First leader Winston Peters was oddly absent during all of this, holed up in his Northland redoubt, waiting for his Thomas Cromwell moment. His election poster catchphrase asking a question that feels quite pertinent: Had enough?

NZ First's Shane Jones and Winston Peters on the campaign trail. Photo / Benedict Collins

The polls started to waver, Labour were slipping down and National edging up. The Greens had bottomed out and NZ First were back in the favoured position of being the ultimate swing voter. Mr Peters was in the frame again.

Election night came in a rush. There were more than 1.2m early votes. The country was seizing democracy by the polling booth and voting as the final polls predicted.

National finished, with special votes counted, on 44.4 percent; Labour 36.9 percent; NZ First 7.2 percent and the Greens 6.3 percent. Gone were the Māori and Opportunities parties. ACT's David Seymour remained, but National wasn't interested.

It was now Mr Peters' game of thrones and everyone was playing - except the Greens. Ms Ardern made clear she believed Labour could form the government. People wanted a change. Mr English said 'we've got the largest share of the vote' - the public expect us to lead as we have done so for three terms.

The swing voter, after much back and forward around the royal court, today crowned Ms Ardern. How will she rule?

 

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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