She discovered she was prime minister the same way we all did: perched on the edge of her couch with a pie in the microwave. Jecinda Ardern is now the world’s youngest female political leader. At 37, Ardern is a progressive social democrat giving kiwis their flight back.
Back in September’s general election, Labour won 46 seats in contrast with Bill English’s National Party who came out with 56. The mixed-member proportional system (MMP) produces a parliament whose number of seats (120 in total) roughly correlates with the nationwide party vote. Neither main party won sufficient seats to govern alone. As a populist party, New Zealand First held the balance of power. By aligning themselves in a coalition, they would give one side enough seats to take office. Labour or National, where would they go? On October 26th, in a swing to the left, NZ First’s Winston Peters opted to enter into a minority coalition with Labour and the Greens. Despite their socially conservative ideologies, NZ First backed Ardern – the former member of the International Union of Socialist Youth and ex policy adviser to Tony Blair.
During his decision to back Labour instead, NZ First’s Winston Peters said that New Zealand needed “Capitalism with a human face”.
Four terms of National leadership have been concluded. The National Party of New Zealand are a centre-right party not all that dissimilar from Britain’s conservatives. During his decision to back Labour instead, NZ First’s Winston Peters said that New Zealand needed “Capitalism with a human face”. This seemed to echo Alexander Dubček’s call for “Socialism with a human face” back in Czechoslovakia 1968. By liberalising the Communist Party, they tried to appeal to those who had lost faith in a socialist regime that had left the nation in political and economic despair under dominant Soviet control. So apparently Ardern is the human face needed by New Zealand. In the case of NZ First, is siding with Labour part of their long term plan to gain power themselves and bring faith to the right?
History conspiracies aside, the lefties now lead. Whilst National and Labour are both fairly centralist parties in the grand scheme of things, Ardern’s left-leaning policies promote a welfare state for those in need. As a reformist, she sees the importance of social change not just at the bottom but also at the top. Her policies include:
- Enforcing tax-avoidance penalties and collecting $200 million (£103 million) extra a year from multinationals not currently paying their share.
- Raising the minimum wage to $16.50 (£8.50) per hour.
- Forming a referendum by 2020 on recreational cannabis use. By joining with the Greens, Labour’s original plan to introduce medical cannabis for terminally ill patients has been broadened.
- Subsidising student’s first year of university or training, and also increasing their allowances and living cost loans.
- Effectively combating child poverty and improving child protection action.
- Advancing mental health education and support holistically.
- Banning speculators overseas from buying existing housing. This is paired with the KiwiBuild plan to provide 100,000 warm, affordable and “healthy” homes to the struggling population over.
New Zealand is clearly ahead of the game already. Over the Tasman, the Australian majority have finally voted in favour of same-sex marriage. Couples still can’t marry in the entirety of the British Isles, yet full marriage equality in New Zealand has existed since 2013. Ardern seeks to liberalise abortion laws, invest an additional $6 billion (£2.5 billion) into creating a modern education system, and add $8 billion (over £4 billion) to health spending. This is all in a country the size of the UK, but with half the population of London.
The welfare state is a necessary safety net. It’s a net often cast into empty seas, or cast no further than campaign posters. Phil Twyford, (Labour’s minister for housing) stated that the nation has “the worst level of homelessness in the world.” This came after it was revealed that nearly 42,000 kiwis are ‘severely housing deprived’. In her bid to socialise New Zealand, Ardern argues that this rate of homelessness indicates a “blatant failure” of capitalism.
So, the prime minister believes the National Party has failed the people. In response, leading Aussie newspaper ‘The Australian’ wrote: “For Ardern to use homelessness to try to litigate the broader argument that the nine highly successful years of capitalism under John Key’s and Bill English’s centre-right National Party were a ‘blatant failure,’ reflects poorly on her.” But if lives were neglected then someone should pick them up. Doubting her credibility, ‘The Australian’ call for her to “be sensible and stop sounding like her wacky British Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn.” Oh c’mon Jecinda don’t be so incompetent, don’t denounce capitalism, and definitely don’t befriend Crazy Corbyn…
It’s a chance for the cobwebs of politics to be shaken off and the crust of convention to be cleared away.
Declaring “Jecinda, do it all for us”, Jezza himself has endorsed Ardern on multiple occasions. As long as she delivers on her promises, New Zealand can be a model for Labour leadership in the UK. Obviously her reforms rely on a strong economy, but with New Zealand’s public debt being reasonably low after National’s financial successes, surely it’s time for the people to be fed and housed? A cross-term coalition you could say. Regardless, the youngest female leader is in office. It’s a chance for the cobwebs of politics to be shaken off and the crust of convention to be cleared away. The Greens and NZ First might ideologically clash, but in Jecinda Ardern’s tripartite coalition she’ll be maintaining balance. Labour will enhance equality and fairness, whilst repairing many kiwi’s broken wings. Now, time for that pie.