Her warm motherly down to earth approach has won the hearts of many. From elderly people in rest homes and hospitals to young school girls being afforded the chance to see what real role models look like; from New Zealand Muslims, afraid for their future following the Christchurch terrorist attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been a welcome – albeit often all too quick – source of inspiration.
But great public relations can only go so far. Eventually it has to give way to solid policy development based on the messages big and small emanating from New Zealand society. Eventually no amount of baby hugging will hide some truly damning bumps in the terrain of the carpet.
To be fair to Ms Ardern, there was a period in the last National-led Government, where the then Prime Minister had a similar appeal. Former Prime Minister John Key had significant political capital, which gave him an every day touch with a person on the street. He appeared down to earth in a blokesy “aw shucks” sort of way that none of his Ministers came close to matching – one person told me he was the kind of person they did not agree with, but felt that it would be possible to have a beer and a joke with Mr Key.
But both Ms Ardern and Mr Key have a common problem that goes with all political capital. There is only so much of it that one has and at some point it either expires or gets used up. But not only that, there are a multitude of ways to blow it without realizing what one has done until too late.
Thus we arrive at the problem currently confronting Ms Ardern. Whilst it is true that although Labour would not want the days and weeks immediately post-Christchurch terrorist attack to be so, it was the warmth and compassion that she showed to massacre victims, their families and fellow mosque worshippers, that enabled her to make significant political hay – and she did. The Christchurch Call, the attempts to remove military style semi-automatics, her willlingness to wear hijab herself along with a number of others were all seized upon as measures built on compassion.
But none of this empathy, this warmth is going to solve the Auckland housing crisis where 40,000 houses are unoccupied. Nor is it going to radically result the discourses that have sprung over the last few years about where our education is going or how realistic the plans to deal with climate change are.
At some point Ms Ardern will have to do what Prime Minister John Key failed to do and that come up with solutions tailor made by New Zealand politicians for New Zealand conditions and New Zealand people. Will in an M.M.P. environment that seems scared of radical ideas New Zealand politics permit this? I do not know the answer except that like it or not we need to try.