It’s official. Shortly before 1900 hours last night, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters – after 26 days of waiting, and nearly two weeks of negotiations – has announced that his party will support a Labour-led Government.
The next Prime Minister of New Zealand – the 40th – will be Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern. Youngest Prime Minister of New Zealand in 160 years.
This is a truly historic moment. Not only has Ms Ardern become Prime Minister, but it is important to remember that not even three months ago, Labour were staring down the gun barrel of a four term National-led Government. It was dead in the water. Nothing was going right – no policy releases, personnel changes or attempts at positivity were working. National had every right to think it was going to win. Both it and its leader Bill English were kilometres ahead of Labour and its leader Andrew Little on 31 July. Despite having suffered a bit of a hit over the Todd Barclay saga, ongoing issues with housing and immigration, National did not seem to have suffered any lasting damage.
But few could have possibly predicted the effect of Ms Ardern being made Leader of Labour on 01 August. From dead in the proverbial water, Ms Ardern was off to a flying start. Over night nearly $250,000 was donated to Labour in 24 hours.
The first poll taken showed a huge spike in Labour support. Young and charismatic, seen as a breath of fresh air Ms Ardern might have lacked the skills and experience in the eyes of many. But she had enthusiasm, was quick to stamp her mark and able to land hits that her predecessors in the post Helen Clark era have only been able to dream about. After the first poll National were probably not unduly worried. It could all be a flash in the pan and her support might go back down.
But it did not. Still not yet time to panic. Mr English, whilst being less popular than his predecessor former Prime Minister John Key, had spades of experience to draw upon. He presented himself as a steady pair of hands and adept at managing crises.
Still – and Ms Ardern knows this – she has those predecessors to thank for buying her and Labour time. It would have been difficult to imagine any of them landing the hits or making the policy announcements that she has. They lacked the charisma and were too scared to make announcements of significant new policy.
Ms Ardern will learn from the longest serving Member of Parliament, the Rt. Honourable Winston Peters. Mr Peters, with the exception of the 2008-2011 term, has served in the New Zealand Parliament continuously since 1981. I was a tot who still had yet to learn to walk when he made his maiden statement that year. Mr Peters, is in a unique position because he will know the pit falls of coalition agreements, Ms Arderns rapid rise to the top from being an M.P. with the Social Development spokesperson role means in some respects she is inexperienced at crisis management.
Over the next few days Labour will announce how it has split the Ministerial Portfolios’. New Zealand First and the Greens are both going to receive a couple. For Mr Peters and his caucus it will be a reminder of the last time it was able to have such an influencing role in a New Zealand General Election.