Monday 28 March 2022

A Bloody Hard Act To Follow.

From Here To There: In 2017 the Grey Lynn Ardern declared airily, “Let’s do this!” If, in 2023, the Morrinsville Ardern can snarl, “I’ve bloody done it!”, then she’ll lead her Labour Government to a third term.

POLITICAL PROVACATEUR, Matthew Hooton, predicts that we should expect to see “less Grey Lynn and more Morrinsville” from Jacinda Ardern. He may have been referring to the Prime Minister’s earthy vocabulary, with its “bloody” this and “bloody” that, but his characterisation also offers an apt description of the political territory traversed by Ardern since the heady days of her “Let’s do this!” campaign of 2017.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to recognise the almost reckless quality of Labour’s 2017 election campaign as the product of a party that did not expect to win. The gap to make up after David Cunliffe’s 2014 debacle, when Labour’s Party Vote declined to a woeful 25 percent, was generally assumed to be too wide. With a Party Vote of 37 percent, Labour seemed happy enough to have lifted its vote by 12 percentage points. Ardern had done well, but her demeanour on election night gave no hint that she believed herself to have done any more than avert yet another electoral catastrophe.

Certainly, the pundits’ verdict on the night was that, with 44 percent of the Party Vote, Bill English would remain New Zealand’s prime minister. Much as he might squirm at the prospect, Winston Peters’ final decision as to which of the two main parties NZ First backed would be dictated, as it always had been before, by which of them received the most Party Votes.

But it wasn’t. This time Peters chose to sit down and dine on a dish of cold vengeance, and Ardern found herself, at the age of thirty-seven, the stunned steward of New Zealand’s fortunes. That she was woefully unprepared for that role was hidden from the electorate by the new prime minister’s superb communication skills. Ardern accomplished the transition from the person who could always be relied upon to charm Labour’s rank-and-file, to the prime minister who could charm not only her own people, but the rest of the world to boot, with astonishing aplomb.

That words – no matter how well chosen – were not, in the end, enough to produce concrete policy victories became clear to all in the grotesque failure of KiwiBuild. It would not be the last instance of massive over-promising, followed by equally massive under-delivery. Indeed, all those years working alongside Helen Clark and Heather Simpson had not driven home to Ardern the deep political wisdom of Clark’s “under-promise and over-deliver” formula for electoral success.

The explanation for this failure is almost certainly generational. As a Baby-Boomer, Clark belonged to a generation that not only understood how much a properly equipped state could accomplish, but also knew, as someone who had lived through the angst and anguish of Rogernomics, exactly how much equipment the state had lost. Yes, there were still many levers left to pull, but hardly any of them were attached to anything that actually worked. If it was work you wanted, the place to get it done – after 1984 – was the market.

Ardern’s other generational problem was the extent to which “communication” and “performance” had melded together. Government announcements about government action had become so important that the very fact an announcement was about to be made itself became the excuse for an announcement. It was as though Ardern and her colleagues believed that the announcement of a set of measures, and their accomplishment, were one and the same. To say it was to do it. Which was fine, providing “it” was something the market wanted to “do”.

The ”Grey Lynn” Ardern understood the genuine desire of her generation to do something about climate change, poverty, racism, sexism and cycle-lanes. But, she also understood how good they felt “liking” a Facebook post of “hearting” a tweet, and how effortlessly signing an online petition had come to replace trudging down the main street with a placard. Politics had become performative – a play. It existed to deliver a message – but not much of anything else. Surely, everybody understood that what they were looking at wasn’t real?

When it comes to delivering messages, however, the Grey Lynn Ardern had few equals. Her “They are Us” on the day of the Christchurch Mosque Massacre, followed by her hug in a hijab, brought the whole world to tears – and cheers. Covid-19 provided an opportunity for more of the same. In the face of a global pandemic, the delivery of calm and inspiring leadership proved to be a vaccine every bit as effective as Pfizer’s – maybe more so!

Ardern’s signature message of kindness, and her powerfully solidaristic “Team of Five Million”, combined with her intuitive decision to “go hard, go early” with the “science” (rather than the business community) carried her forward to an historic electoral victory.

But, if 2017-20 was the Lord Mayor’s Coach, then 2020-23 shows every sign of being the shit-cart. In spite of announcements, and announcements about announcements, the relentless machinery of free-market capitalism grinds on. Every crisis has its cost, and the cost of New Zealand’s Covid-19 pandemic has been, and will continue to be, huge. Political dramas cannot go on forever, and all too often the audience steps out of the theatre into driving wind, freezing rain – and Omicron. When you’re wet, cold, ill-housed and infected, and the cost-of-living keeps spiralling upwards out of control, then messages – no matter how inspiring – tend to be forgotten.

The Morrinsville Ardern is emerging because our Prime Minister has realised just how bloody naïve the Grey Lynn Ardern always was. Like Helen Clark, who grew up in the same part of the country, the Morrinsville Ardern has learned the hard way just how little the contemporary New Zealand state is capable of delivering. She knows what it’s like to pull on a lever and feel it rattle loose in her hand. She knows, too, that a Labour prime minister can only say “No” to the business community for so long. She has learned that carrots are all very well, but every now and then it’s necessary to put a bit of stick about. And if the stick’s victims turn up on your front lawn? Well then, you give them a little bit more!

Morrinsville Ardern is what you get when reality drives an iron spike into the gentle soul of Grey Lynn’s “Jacinda”. Will Kiwi voters take to Morrinsville Ardern? Hard to say. As a people we’re notorious for letting ourselves fall in love with performers – generally on the sports field. We are even willing to allow them a few mistakes – providing the culprits demonstrate they’ve got what it takes to pull themselves together and lift their performance. Even the disappearance of the grace and flair that first attracted us to them is forgivable, just so long as the ruthless and ugly efficiency with which they’ve been replaced continues to deliver the wins.

In 2017 the Grey Lynn Ardern declared airily, “Let’s do this!” If, in 2023, Morrinsville Ardern can snarl, “I’ve bloody done it!”, then she’ll lead her Labour Government to a third term.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 28 March 2022.


Brendan McNeill said...

When it comes to re-election, the problem for the Prime Minister is that a significant proportion of the electorate, their families and their friends have been deliberately marginalised by her hubris, her mandates, and her indifference to their plight; circumstances that she was directly responsible for creating.

The idea that any New Zealand Prime Minister would gleefully create “two classes of people” in this country is unprecedented and unconscionable. Short of a heartfelt apology and a dropping of all mandates along with the political machinery of marginalisation, I doubt they are ready to forgive or forget.

There is no sign that the Prime Minister is willing to do either of these things.

There is also a significant portion of the electorate that has stopped listening to her announcements, and pronouncements. They no longer believe anything she says, they have turned off. Once this happens, the electoral outcome is both deserved and certain.

Kat said...

Just by her very age Jacinda was always going to grow into the role of prime minister. I believe there has to be a quiet welling of pride in this steadfast daughter, mother and leader. It has been revealed that Jacinda is as much a beacon of light as a maturing leader and prime minister. Her apprenticeship is a challenge with events not experienced by any other leader this country has seen, at least in the past half century.

You may be correct in saying that the majority of the electorate will acknowledge Jacinda has risen to that challenge and are bound to reward her with a win in 2023, however I would not be so certain "ruthless" and "ugly" will play any part in that win.

Anonymous said...

It appears that neither Arderns truly have anything much to offer beyond a specious appearance and spurious claims of having achieved. It may be difficult for someone to follow the "rock star" image but surely not such a problem to actually follow up with at least some effective action re housing, crime, climate action, poverty, infrastructure, etc, etc, etc, i.e. things that matter, rather than just some window dressing.

Max Ritchie said...

The phone is off the hook as far as Ardern is concerned. At some stage there has to be more than words, no matter how well delivered. The PM looks tired but it’s because of disappointment, not her hard work. Labour has failed her and together they’ve failed the country. She is history next election.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The idea that any New Zealand Prime Minister would gleefully create “two classes of people” in this country is unprecedented and unconscionable."

Funny, neoliberal prime ministers have been doing this for years – the rich and the poor – you never complained.

Jasper said...


She has blown her load!

From a 26pt lead in 2020 and now, after 12 polls she's at plus or minus 2pt in every poll in the past few months.

It isn't going to get any better.

Let's have a government-run by referendums. MP's become admin and let us have no more list seats! Let's have 120 electorates instead! A true direct proportionate representative body!

After a referendum on becoming a Republic!

After the third world war!

After China moves in!

After the election moves further up the calendar, to the end of this year!

John Hurley said...

Now I want to talk about the fifth part of the model and i think this is the thing: if you're looking for something to anchor public policy in the 21st century it's the fifth part of the model which is the immigration program where i think a lot of a lot of the big questions we should be asking ourselves can uh you can look for some answers.

Now this part of the model hasn't had much fanfare now we haven't had a Paul Keating or a Bob Hawke or a John Howard or a Peter Costello. When we were interviewing for the TV show i did a couple of years ago we weren't talking about the fifth part of the model because it was something that even then i think to my eyes wasn't as obvious as it might be today.

The way the immigration program works now it's as separated from politics as interest rates as the dollar as tariff and as wages and we've seen over the course of the 90s and certainly in the early part of the 21st century, the market dictating who comes to our country not the government the market and there's a couple of very important things to bear in mind uh in each decade after the end of the second world war to the end of the 20th century, our population over the course of that decade, over the course of each of those decades would rise for about by about two million and a bit. Under half of that will come from overseas from the net overseas migration uh program.

In the first decade alone of the 21st century this is a number that should be familiar to a lot of people because it's been what's been driving state governments crazy ever since we didn't add two million to the population over that decade we added three and the additional million an additional hundred thousand a year came from overseas. Now John Howard didn't do this John Howard didn't wake up one morning and decided he'd literally double the immigration intake the reason why we haven't had a press release announcing that is that it didn't happen that way once we moved to a focus on skills

IPAA 2016 National Conference - George Megalogenis
Plenary2 list=PL8qcvjP3CnKPFiZrri3rj3VsVLsZ04_DC

They now simply talk over us: "Labour and National are standing together to say yes to housing in our back yard!

John Hurley said...

On Twitter Ardern supporters blame msyogyny. In fact people see her as being in the same mould as the journalists and activists on Twitter. They feel she is a good act.
EG she tilts her head on her hand with a finger pointing skywards and asks (feigning innocence): "why would anyone not want to learn their history.

As Avril Bell points out:

[And, as French philosopher Ernest Renan ([1882] 1990, 11) noted in the 1880s: ]'Forgetting, I would go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation.' Remembering the violence required to forge the nation in the first place can undermine the story of national unity.

sumsuch said...

The Murupara Ardern would be our dream. Sliciest povertous place I've ever been in. Going through the gravel road of Waikaremoana Park and you want to stop in the first place after. Shivers.

John Hurley said...

If "you" relates to me in anyway the only thing I can think of is a video I made walking through my house showing how sunlight comes through the windows (in relation to 11m high 1m from boundary without compensation bill) .

Replying to
This is just sad. You're really desperate to be a part of a downtrodden minority group, aren't you kiddo? The cliches that embody your ideology are tiresome. Get over yourself, you needy little scab.

"Needy" had me scratching my head. Why would a leftist use "needy"....?
Then I connected it to intersectionality.
Under that ideology the whole white working class (majority group's less well off) go to the back of the queue.
It is as though before migration we had no economic related issues.
As Eric Kaufmann points out in multi-ethnic countries ethnic politics dominate economics (Red Feds and Cow-Cockies)

Barry said...

If people making comments could type or say something with at least some acknowledgment to fullstops and paragraphs and structured writting................

greywarbler said...

I consider that PM Jacinda has an ambition to follow in Helen Clark's shoes. Ms Clark thinks she is the right stuff and will help her. Ardern has triumphed in politics as a woman, having a baby, and has maintained her role to a high standard and given Labour a good cardboard backing for the cut outs of the rest. And she has overseen the scientific approach, cautious and listening to the moans of tourism and others. She leaves NZ in a better condition and kept close to the method act of Labour, where they appear to care. Great respiration resuscitation along with recitation of Labour's supposed values and intentions. But the package doesn't ring true, it is as hard-wearing as a pair of Asian-made shoes, good looking but the veneer flaking off wfter a few wears.

If National weren't so obscenely materialistic. They have been happy getting as much for nothing as possible - now they must change to quid pro quo and give something for every thing they get. It is a reasonable proposition but the comfortably off expect an easy ride and will resent that concept like hell.

sumsuch said...

Depressing view from a good social democrat, Seth Meyer's show. Him commenting on the slow-moving coup of their Right. The Republicans keep voting 'big lie' believers into the vote-counting jobs. I think it's important. In view of Ukraine we all know now democracy is imperative.