New Zealand’s Election Landslide; what can we learn from Jacinda Ardern’s ‘politics of kindness’?
Eleanor Butler discusses Jacinda Arden’s re-election for a second term as prime minister of New Zealand and how the global political sphere can learn from her as a leader.
Labelled as one of the world’s most trailblazing leaders, Jacinda Ardern continues to break the political mould, and shows us the real meaning of leadership in these tumultuous times.
After being elected Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017, the Labour leader Ardern has recently secured a second term, thanks to elections held on the 17th October. In the most decisive vote for 50 years, the leader won a staggering 49.1% of the party vote, meaning that Labour has gained 64 seats to form a majority government. As Ardern acknowledged in her victory speech, the party managed to pick up votes from across the political spectrum, mainly due to the government’s successes over the last three years. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the Prime Minister herself is also key to this result. As world politics becomes increasingly characterised by incendiary statements, false claims, and a lack of transparency, Ardern’s compassionate and authentic style of leadership is a ray of hope for disillusioned populations.
As world politics becomes increasingly characterised by incendiary statements, false claims, and a lack of transparency, Ardern’s compassionate and authentic style of leadership is a ray of hope for disillusioned populations.
In many democratic societies, personality politics is often a curse, especially when issues become masked behind theatrical characters and likeability contests. If we take the time to reflect on British politics, we can see how this plays out. Ever noticed how Boris Johnson plays the bumbling comedian, or why Jeremy Corbyn’s Glastonbury appearance received so much attention? It’s all about marketing a leader, and not just the politics they stand for. However, although Ardern’s endearing personality has undoubtedly been used as a re-election strategy, her empathetic approach appears to be sincere, and her actions prove it. Her response to the Christchurch mosque shootings, which killed 51 people in 2019, was globally praised, and has been used to criticise the failings of the American government in response to gun crime. Whilst Ardern spent time grieving with victims, she also acted decisively to tackle online extremist material and the accessibility of weapons, swiftly banning semi-automatic firearms. If we want further examples of Ardern’s ‘people first’ policies, we have only to look at her endorsement of a four-day working week, or the 20% pay cut she has recently taken, in solidarity with those facing economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
Although Ardern’s endearing personality has undoubtedly been used as a re-election strategy, her empathetic approach appears to be sincere, and her actions prove it.
Yet unlike other governments, Ardern’s handling of the coronavirus crisis goes beyond grand gestures. Earlier this year, whilst Trump was scorning the science, Boris was yo-yoing back and forth on his priorities, and Putin was using the virus as a propaganda campaign, Ardern was listening to experts, and acting accordingly. On the 2nd of February, following the first coronavirus death outside of China, New Zealand banned any foreigners from entering the country if they had come from or via China. In March, as cases began to rise, Ardern responded forcefully and closed the country’s borders to all those who weren’t residents or New Zealand nationals. Although the country has since experienced small outbreaks, these have been kept under control, and all of New Zealand is now at ‘Alert Level 1’, meaning that the population is free to live an almost normal life.
So, whilst there are challenges to come, Ardern seemed confident following her latest election victory. In contrast to her first term, there is arguably less of an expectation for the Prime Minister to prove herself, as her long list of achievements shows that her governance consists of more than just smiles. It is easy to become swept up in ‘Jacindamania’, and in doing so, become despondent about the shortcomings of our own government. There is only one answer to this: find our own Jacinda, and vote her in.