Friday 22 December 2017

Long Live The Sun Queen!

Sunny Ways: I have participated in, and written about, politics for close to 40 years, but in all that time I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like Jacinda Ardern’s first media conference as Labour Leader.

WHEN 2017 BEGAN, I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful about how it would end. Shortly after New Year’s Day, I wrote:

“The political consensus, at the beginning of 2017 – election year – is that the National-led Government will hold on to power. Not in its own right, as might have happened had John Key led them into battle, but with sufficient parliamentary support to govern comfortably. The identity and character of National’s support will likely prove the most intriguing electoral story of the year. The most significant political event of 2017, however, could well be the collapse of the Labour Party and the emergence of the Greens as New Zealand’s leading party of the centre-left.”

And if Andrew Little, alarmed at the sudden surge in support for the Greens, had not stepped aside in favour of Jacinda Ardern, then my gloomy prediction might very well have come true. Because, as we all know, that Green surge had come at Labour’s expense, driving the party’s poll numbers down towards politically unsustainable levels.

It is, therefore, arguable that the Labour-NZF-Green Government presiding over New Zealand as 2017 draws to a close owes its existence to the moral courage and simple decency of Andrew Little. Certainly, the Labour Party owes him a huge debt of gratitude. He was willing to do – unbidden – what, left to their own devices, his indefatigably self-interested caucus colleagues would never have had the gumption to force upon him.

There’s no disguising the fact, however, that Little’s decision to step down in favour of Ardern was a huge gamble. Neither he, nor his colleagues, nor the news media, were at all sure whether the MP for Mt Albert had what it took to reanimate Labour’s 2017 campaign.

Until, that is, she strode out of the Labour Caucus and into her first media conference – and opened her mouth.

I have participated in, and written about, politics for close to 40 years, but in all that time I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like Jacinda Ardern’s first media conference as Labour Leader.

When words fail you, the best place to look for someone else’s is often in the works of William Shakespeare. Watching Ardern’s extraordinary political talent blaze forth so unexpectedly, I was reminded of the lines spoken by Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part One, where he explains his reasons for keeping his true nature hidden until exactly the right moment:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

No one can dispute that Ardern’s sunny ways dispelled the “foul and ugly mist” in which Labour had been slowly expiring. Beneath the television lights, those “base contagious clouds” which, in the persons of Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little had been smothering Labour’s hopes, were dispelled by the glorious summer of this daughter of Morrinsville. “Jacindamania” was upon us.

And yet, for all her “relentless positivity”, Ardern’s dramatic emergence foreshadowed only negative consequences for the Green Co-Leader, Metiria Turei, and her party. While Little’s grey presence cast a pall over Labour’s campaign prospects, Turei’s reckless challenge to the status quo – “I committed welfare fraud to feed my baby!” – had set progressive hearts a-flutter. Before Jacinda’s blazing sunshine overwhelmed it entirely, Turei’s defiant policy candle had sent out rays of hope into the neoliberal gloom. So transfixed were progressives by the bells and whistles of the passing “Jacinda” juggernaut, however, that only a few took note of the number of radical Green policies left crushed and broken beneath its wheels.

And, it wasn’t only the progressive Left that found itself transfixed by the Jacinda spectacle. For most of the year NZ First had been struggling to come up with a plan to moderate the policies of its most likely coalition partner – the National Party. Suddenly, Labour was back in the game. Was it possible that Jacinda also knew “The Hallelujah Song” of political transformation and economic emancipation? Would she be willing to sing it with him? Peters didn’t know, but for the first time in a long time, it made sense to listen.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to her fairy NZ First godmother, Jacinderella did get to go to the ball. And, much to the fury of the National Party’s ugly sisters, it was onto her foot that Prince Winston slid the glass slipper of power.

So, can we say that, in spite of all those New Year forebodings, 2017 has had a happy ending? New Zealand has a progressive government, of sorts, and its young prime minister has already set about enchanting the world. What’s not to be hopeful about?

Strangely, I keep coming back to that Shakespearian quote: the one about Prince Hal imitating the sun. Because, of course, Prince Hal eventually becomes King Henry V. It is then that, as promised, he emerges from the “base contagious clouds” of his disreputable friends and hangers-on to claim his birthright – the Crown of England.

Aye, and there’s the rub. Power is transformative – it changes all who wield it. Henry V – Prince Hal as was – ruthlessly dismisses his former companions: breaking all former bonds, and forgetting all previous promises. With a kingdom to govern, his need is now for new friends, new advisors, new policies.

What that means, in terms of the true nature of the Labour-NZF-Green Government and its leader is, alas, only now becoming clear. New Zealanders may revel in the warm glow of their Sun Queen, but, having placed her on the throne, they must now content themselves with the role of mere spectators of her royal progress.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 19 December 2017.


greywarbler said...

Merry Christmas Chris. Here in sunny NZ which blazes on one can only hope that Jacinda will continue to be as bright and shine her light on many worthwhile policies implemented to repair our tattered polity. But further to help us all to look to the future and how to think about the repairs and initiative needed to face CC and the neolib tsunami that has made CC more intense and harder to prepare for.

Your essay is a wise-man story that in the northern hemisphere we could gather round the fire with our mulled wine and listen to. Can we get the same effect around the barbie? We should make a time to read it and recollect and reminisce as history these days is last week! What we must hold to is the catchcry, 'Let's Do It'. We can't relax unfortunately, so let's keep ourselves buoyed by numerous positive, wise and lighthouse-type projects.

My Christmas treat to all is Pam Ayres' ironic tongue in cheek pome on Christmas and how we busy and diverse humans involve ourselves in it in our different ways, but whatever, it brings us together and thinking about whanau, commonality and community.
Goodwill To Men - Give Us Your Money (Pam Ayres)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I was always a little pissed off at school about Henry V abandoning his friends. Particularly Falstaff. What Muldoon might have become if he'd been more human. :)

"Trail'st thou the puissant pike?" I think he did. I'm not sure the current Labour government is going to do that.

kat said...

I will stick my neck out here and say that in my humble opinion Jacinda Ardern will in time become with New Zealanders as popular and as much a loved PM as Micky Savage. Not all of course but then you can't please all of the people all of the time.

Merry Christmas.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Robert G. Ingersoll

It is beautiful to give one day to the ideal –to have one day apart;
one day for generous deeds, for good will, for gladness;
one day to forget the shadows, the rains, the storms of life;
to remember the sunshine, the happiness of youth and health;

one day to forget the briers and thorns of the winding path, to remember the fruits and flowers;
one day in which to feed the hungry, to salute the poor and lowly;
one day to feel the brotherhood of man;
one day to remember the heroic and loving deeds of the dead;
one day to get acquainted with children, to remember the old, the unfortunate and the imprisoned;
one day in which to forget yourself and think lovingly of others;
one day for the family, for the fireside, for wife and children, for the love and laughter, the joy and rapture, of home;
one day in which bonds and stocks and deeds and notes and interest and mortgages and all kinds of business and trade are forgotten, and all stores and shops and factories and offices and banks and ledgers and accounts and lawsuits are cast aside, put away and locked up, and the weary heart and brain are given a voyage to fairyland.
Let us hope that such a day is a prophecy of what all days will be."

Victor said...


I agree that she's a remarkable young woman, who may yet vindicate the high hopes of her supporters.

But it's all been such a rush, the coalition less than averagely prepared for government, the opposition more than usually strong and tough-minded and the global political and financial scenes clouded with uncertainty.

So next year should prove the telling time.

Merry Christmas to you too and to all the other "usual suspects".

aberfoyle said...

At the least her xmas message to her subjects was a polite nicety in comparison to her opposition leader English,who!s was patronizing saying,I wish all New Zealand a safe and merry xmas,even those less fortunate.

Victor said...


Agreed. And, as king, Henry V proves to be a cold, manipulative bugger, hiding behind his bluff soldier's mask.

But, according to many pundits, Hank Sank was meant to be Shakespeare's ideal ruler, thus raising again the eternal question of whether we need good people in top slots or just tough-minded, slick operators with good policies.

Guillaume said...

A breath of fresh air, but can she sustain the promise?

David Stone said...

Merry christmas everyone
Let's hope Jacinda has a break too
I agree Victor , let's see how she gets on next year. God only knows what America is going to bring on us all.
Cheers David J S

Bushbaptist said...

'Cinda is doing okay. There will be mis-steps and glitches but her heart is in the right place.

Compliments of the Season to all from a very chilly 3C outside in Brno, C.R.

countryboy said...

"...but, having placed her on the throne, they must now content themselves with the role of mere spectators of her royal progress."

Jesus ! I just had a mental image of Adern sitting on the toilet!
I'm sorry @ Chris Trotter but I'd have to snort a big Meh. Jacinda Adern...? I Mean... ? Really...? I get this feeling that I'm on a plane, the pilot's just dropped dead of a heart attack and a random passenger with a twitch has taken over flying the fucking thing.
Look, NZ's a tiny little place population based. It's a mere 4.7 million. What's the fucking problem? A kid with a decent budget could run this little show. So why the in's and fucking out's? We're a straight laced, mainly beige sundry few souls with more resources than a boat load of Syrian refugees washing ashore into a Mitre 10 Mega store but who then once dried off try to nit pick the minute` of the place.
We're being bullshitted. Our politicians are bullshit artists. I hear the flat tones of a " Let's do This'er' in Aderns voice. I mean... Y.A.W.N. ! Winston peters? He reminds me of that hideous car? The Vanguard. Remember that car? It looked like a fat termite in tights. It had a tractor engine. It was a kind of round, pointless thing that never ran anyone down because everyone ran from because it was so undeniably, hideously ugly. It was a car that was too ugly to be run down by. The shame of it. Winston Peters can't fail. He's so banal and be-suited that he's at once intolerable AND impossible to ignore. He can't lose. He has an unshakable audience out there who can't wait to be bored to death by him. The Greens... I'm reminded of chicken Saagwala. It's green going in and they’re Green coming out. Do The Greens know that grain farmers spray their crops to ' hasten the ripening process' and yes folks! That's your bread and muesli. 500% ! That's how much more glyphosphate is in your piss from the last time measured. Does that not make you go, like W.T.F.? What's that Green guy in the suit doing? In.A.Suit.? Is he out there stopping the sprayings? No. He's in an office checking his fucking bank account.
Our politicians are a bland cadre of dumb babies bumping about in a boring, toy-less sand pit. We, watch on, ever hopeful, as if we're about to witness some kind of greatness but we see, instead, a cross eyed, special needs kid drink bleach to wash down the blow fly.

As for Christmas? So long as there's one person living in the streets, is sad and missing out on love and is lonely and without a present and a lollie? It can't be Merry. Fuck it. I'm with them. You can all be jolly and merry if you like but I have to be down in there with them. Otherwise, I'm just another fucking hypocrite.

Polly. said...

Chris, well said.
Merry Xmas and a happy and safe New Year everyone.

Victor said...


After an exhausting, topsy turvy albeit (for many of us)unexpectedly hope-filled year, perhaps the most appropriate Shakespearean quote for the holiday season comes from the opening of Henry !V, Part One:

"So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant"

More even than in previous years, I've felt stimulated, informed and sometimes infinitely provoked by your posts and by your activities as radio pundit.

All good wishes for 2018.