It was a phenomena that took the left of New Zealand politics by storm in 2017. It started at the end of July 2017 with Labour staring down the gun barrel of electoral oblivion. After nine years, four leaders and some of the biggest defeats in M.M.P. era so far, the future hardly looked rosy for Labour and its then leader Andrew Little. National were riding high and many people had already written the yet-to-be-fought election campaign off as a foregone conclusion.
His deputy Jacinda Ardern was Leader of the Opposition for seven weeks. In those seven weeks she took Labour from being fighting for its life to being on the cusp of an electoral victory none would have dared to dream when Mr Little was in the office of Leader of the Opposition.
And then there is bubs. Specially Neve Aroha Ardern Gayford, the six week old bundle of joy that has kept Ms Ardern out of her job since mid June. Whilst allowing her Deputy Winston Peters six weeks to stamp his probably final mark on the Prime Minister’s job, it would have given her a critical breathing space in which to collect her thoughts on her role and how her Government is going.
Ms Ardern’s baby, aside from giving New Zealand Womens Weekly and Woman’s Day plenty to crow about, was a bit of a coup with working mothers. It gave them something in common with someone from a profession often viewed in a disdainful way as elitist. Her down to earth nature and rapport with the younger generation have given them hope in a world that seems increasingly dystopian – a world where guns, dollars and class superiority again seem to be coming to the fore in many countries. But not int the world of Ms Ardern.
But if we are honest with ourselves about how a year of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party-turned Leader of the Opposition-turned Prime Minister has affected New Zealanders, I think many might be surprised with themselves. I personally had voted New Zealand First and wanted something other than National/A.C.T., Labour/Greens.
Ms Ardern seemed to understand from the start that she is Prime Minister because Winston Peters decided that New Zealand First would not gain from being in coalition with National. Former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley’s failure to respect the no asset sales clause in the coalition agreement in deciding to try to sell Wellington Airport, told me she has little regard for the . Prime Minister Bill English and his Government’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership told me that he would be no better than Mrs Shipley was in 1998.
Is Ms Ardern perfect? Absolutely not. She has made mistakes and there may be more in the offering, particularly on contentious targets. She has work to do getting Ministers like Phil Twyford to create realistic performance targets and stick by them. Here again-not again Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis has been one of those whose ministerial portfolio’s need clearing up. Of her other ministers so far, with the exception of Ms Ardern’s deputy Winston Peters, it is a real mixed bag. They will grow and develop their Ministerial portfolio’s as Parliament progresses or they will be made to fall on their swords. Some like Megan Woods, Minister of Energy and Resources has the potential to be a good Minister for the Crown. She will need to clean up the remaining Cantebury/Christchurch quake claims quickly though. Some like Nanaia Mahuta seem to be treading water with no major policy announcements and for whom the clock is ticking – how long before Ms Ardern gives them a rev up to remind them Labour needs policy, not drowsy Ministers.
National will continue trying to attack Ms Ardern. It will not be easy with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters ensuring that a centre-left mandate can be had. And with National leader Simon Bridges enjoying no better polling support than Andrew Little was this time last year, how long will National hang on to him?