The New Zealand Labour Party has been in disarray over the past nine years. They have suffered landslide losses in three successive general elections up against the highly successful and charismatic National Party Prime Minister John Key. Labour appeared doomed to a fourth successive loss no less than two weeks ago. Key’s successor Bill English having suffered his own landslide defeat in 2002 appeared set to be elected Prime Minister in his own right.
Internal Labour Party polling put their primary vote at a mere 23% and not wanting to be another Labour leader presiding over a landslide election loss then Opposition Leader Andrew Little resigned on August 1, just six weeks out from the election. His deputy, 37-year-old Jacinda Arden was elected leader unopposed. Many viewed the change as a sign of political desperation by Labour and didn’t give Arden a chance of doing much better.
Fast forward just two weeks later and a political miracle is now looking possible. The first poll since Arden’s ascend to the leadership has seen Labour’s primary vote rise to 33% and she is now only a point behind Bill English as preferred Prime Minister on 26%. She has picked up support from minor parties New Zealand First and the Greens who just lost one of the Co-Leaders over her admission of welfare fraud.
The reason for this surge is support is largely down to the fact Arden’s leadership has energised the left in New Zealand. She had the feminist movement rally around her on the first day of her leadership as they expressed outrage that she dared be asked about her plans to have a family in the future. Even though it was something Arden herself had raised only months earlier.
This has been complimented by a wave of positive media coverage pumping up her profile. Arden over the years has been happy to promote herself in soft media outlets such as women’s magazines, the latest example is an unplugged article in the New Zealand Herald highlighting some of her quirky interests. Her boyfriend is New Zealand media personality Clarke Gayford which means she doesn’t need to go far to seek advice about how to promote her public profile.
The combination of energising the base and positive media coverage has been dubbed ‘Jacindamania’ by the Guardian. They compare her with other charismatic leaders who have swept to power in recent times such as Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, you could probably add Emmanuel Macron to that list. The article discusses that the Labour Party has received $500,000 in donations and signed up 3,500 volunteers since she become leader.
So far on the campaign trail she has not put a foot wrong. She was mobbed at a recently policy announcement. She also repaid the sisterhood for their support of her as she told a rally for pay equity that Labour “will not rest” until pay equity is achieved in New Zealand. Her age and lack of political experience do not appear to be in impediment. She is viewed as having a positive agenda for New Zealand and appeals to the future up against an old and stale Bill English and a National Party that has been in power for nine years.
But should this so called ‘Jacindamania’ sweeping New Zealand be instead called ‘Jacindamadness’? New Zealand has had sound economic management over the past nine years, it has achieved a budget surplus however the economy is now starting to slow down. Labour under Arden is still promoting a high spend and tax agenda that could put New Zealand’s fragile economy at risk.
Labour has proposed two new taxes, one is a water tax on irrigation water which has upset the agricultural industry, the other was a regional fuel tax to pay for Auckland infrastructure. Arden also pledged to make the first three years of tertiary education free. A less extravagant spending announcement but equally ludicrous is the promise of free driving lessons for high school students. New Zealanders should think very carefully about the future direction they want their country to take and not get swept up in the desire for change and the attraction of a fresh face.
If we are living under a supposed patriarchy then it isn’t working very well as we now have the possibility of a 37-year-old woman being swept into office after only months in the job. Add this to the fact that New Zealand has already had two female Prime Ministers, one from each major party.
It would appear now even the Turnbull Government is spooked by the possibility of an Arden government as Julie Bishop today accused New Zealand Labour of colluding with the Australian Labor Party to uncover Barnaby Joyce’s New Zealand citizenship. An accusation Arden has not taken kindly to.
Under New Zealand’s mixed member proportionate system, the most likely outcome of the election is that New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters will decide who is Prime Minister. If Labour’s primary vote continues to serge then Peters could very well make Arden the new Prime Minister which he has not ruled out. Like her or loathe her, Arden’s rise to the leadership has been a game changer and the result of the election on September 23rd is now far less predictable but its outcome will define the nation for years to come.