Jacinda Ardern is back from maternity leave – let the games begin

by Bill Ralston / 06 August, 2018

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Clarke Gayford and their daughter Neve Te Aroha at Wellington Airport on August 4. Photo/Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Clarke Gayford and their daughter Neve Te Aroha at Wellington Airport on August 4. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Jacinda Ardern nz

As the PM’s maternity leave and her National opposite’s tiki tour come to an end, Bill Ralston surveys the battleground.  

Mum’s home at last. Grumpy Uncle Winston has gone back to the basement, having fulfilled his babysitting duties of the past six weeks.

Just like an absent parent, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sent us an occasional Facebook message to assure us that all was well and we were not forgotten. Surprisingly, everyone in the great New Zealand family seemed to behave themselves while she was away having her baby and a long cuppa.

It was an odd period of quiescence. National Party leader Simon Bridges was almost as invisible, taking himself on a tour of the country, meeting people and largely avoiding the media.

Town hall meetings are not a bad idea for a new party boss. The faithful and those who may be wavering get the opportunity to have their flesh pressed, see the leader close up, and get reassurance that he or she is a real person and not a character in a never-ending soap opera.

National appears to have spent the past 10 months since the formation of the Labour-led coalition sulking and only now, following its party conference, has it begun to even sound like a coherent Opposition.

The only damage the Government sustained in that period came from the occasional self-inflicted gunshot wound to its feet. Despite private polls that each of the main two parties claims a surge in its support, I suspect the backing for both remains largely frozen in time from the last election as people give the parties time to prove whether they have what it takes to govern.

An adage I learnt as a political studies student at the University of Auckland in the 1970s is that opposition parties don’t win elections, governments lose them. It seems to be true. In 1972, the long-lived National Government finally ran out of puff and Labour came to power. Three years later, after the death of charismatic leader Norman Kirk, it collapsed in confusion and dithering. In 1984, the country finally ran out of patience with Sir Robert Muldoon and reinstalled Labour.

Two terms and three Prime Ministers later, after six years of mayhem, Labour was turfed out again, to be followed by three terms of National, until Jenny Shipley took power and the pendulum swung back to Labour, under Helen Clark.

You know what happened then: three terms for Labour, then three for National. Despite the vagaries of MMP, a government has to be pretty bad to be chucked out after one or even two terms.

So far, the Labour-NZ First coalition Government, with the Greens in support, has not done anything dreadful enough to ensure a collapse in support. Ardern, no doubt helped by baby Neve, remains popular and a great salesperson for Labour. Grant Robertson is a Finance Minister in the tradition of those of the past 30 years: not too radical; a relatively steady hand on the wheel. David Parker has morphed into Steven Joyce, an all-knowing Mr Fixit for the Government. The rest of those in Cabinet, with a couple of limping exceptions, appear as competent as the National Cabinet they ousted.

For Bridges, the challenge is to keep rebuilding National as an effective Opposition and present an image of himself as likeable, competent and capable of leading a party that is fit to govern.

If he wishes to occupy the ninth floor of the Beehive in just over two years, he will also need the assistance of the present coalition. Its collapse into incompetence, bickering and indecision would give him the leg-up he needs. There’s no sign of that. Yet.

This article was first published in the August 11, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

As a young reporter, I went undercover to expose the Ku Klux Klan
95069 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z History

As a young reporter, I went undercover to expose t…

by Dick Lehr

How a young reporter infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan - and discovered the truth about its conman leader David Duke.

Read more
The EV battery scare shows the urgent need to support green technology
95080 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Environment

The EV battery scare shows the urgent need to supp…

by The Listener

With nearly half of New Zealanders considering buying an EV in the next two years, the results could be electrifying.

Read more
Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work
93844 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Arts

Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work

by Kate Richards

Otara-raised Aloalii Tapu uses a myriad of dance influences to express his ideas about manhood, suicide and post-colonialism.

Read more
The artist and poet who refused to play by the narrow rules of NZ art
94118 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The artist and poet who refused to play by the nar…

by Sally Blundell

Decades in France have made Douglas MacDiarmid an elusive figure in NZ art history. A new biography delivers a vital portrait of the 96-year-old.

Read more
12 of the best op shops in Auckland
95053 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Where to go in Auckland

12 of the best op shops in Auckland

by Vomle Springford

With Auckland’s high cost of living, it can be hard to fork out for new clothes, or new anything really. But op shops are plentiful here.

Read more
How virtual reality can help us understand how we think
95019 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Psychology

How virtual reality can help us understand how we …

by Marc Wilson

When you're flying through the air like superman in virtual reality, chances are you'll brace for impact at landing.

Read more
Where to eat this ski season
94882 2018-08-17 00:00:00Z Food

Where to eat this ski season

by Kate Richards

A trip to the snow doesn’t have to mean a diet of hot chips and sad hotdogs.

Read more
Simon Bridges' spending leak: Hunt for leaker begins
95064 2018-08-16 10:38:12Z Politics

Simon Bridges' spending leak: Hunt for leaker begi…

by Jo Moir

All eyes are on National Party MPs, the office of the Speaker and Parliamentary Service now the hunt for the leaker has begun.

Read more