Politics |Analysis

Developing: New Zealand’s new prime minister Jacinda Ardern marks first shift to the left in a decade

Talk (14)

Charles Anderson

Charles Anderson

"If it was the youngest prime minster ..."

Rory Johnston

"Might lose this record pretty quickly..."
Charles Anderson

Charles Anderson

"Have updated now with more commentary..."
Pete Young

Pete Young

"Cool, thanks for explaining"

Jacinda Ardern was the deputy of a failing party when she was handed the reins to Labour. She said she didn’t want to be the leader.

But on Thursday, 26 days after New Zealand’s general election failed to produce a decisive result, the 37-year-old became the country’s youngest prime minister in 160 years.

Ardern grew up in a Mormon family and has been a Labour Party member since her teens. She worked for former-prime minister-turned-United Nations-development head Helen Clark before traveling overseas. She had a stint in London working as a policy adviser in the UK Cabinet Office and also served as president of the International Union of Socialist Youth.

It was only a few weeks before New Zealand’s general election and Labour was sliding in the polls. It was assumed that the incumbent National party, led by Prime Minister Bill English, would cruise to victory. But when then-Labour-leader Andrew Little stood down and announced Ardern’s leadership, the polls took a sharp turn.

It was labelled “Jacindamania.” She was called “stardust.” She spoke to a younger generation of voters – one which was frustrated by escalating house prices and voter fatigue. She said climate change was one of the most important challenges facing New Zealand. But come polling day, despite the lofty titles, breathless media coverage and energized younger voter base, National still gained the most votes.

National received 44.4 per cent while a Labour and Greens block gained 43.2 per cent of the vote.

However, under New Zealand’s proportional election system, known as MMP, a majority of votes does not necessarily mean victory. In the proportional system, the proportion of votes a party gets will largely reflect the number of seats it has in parliament.

So it came down to a maverick MP named Winston Peters who, at 72-years-old, relished the role he would come to play. He negotiated with both Labour and National, seeking the best deal for his own party and himself. On Thursday evening, New Zealand time, he finally declared that he would go with Labour. He was offered the deputy prime ministership.

Peters said Ardern had “exhibited extraordinary talent” on the campaign trail and took the party from a “hopeless position to a position where they’re in office and government today.”

“Our perception was the people of this country did want change and we’ve responded to that.”

The decision marks a sharp shift to the left for the first time in nine years. The country had been led by charismatic former investment banker turned politician John Key.

His successor Bill English, who had coveted the role of prime minister for more than a decade, will be left in opposition. Even he called Ardern’s performance “remarkable.”

Ardern told a press conference after the announcement: “I feel extraordinary honoured and privileged to be a in a position to form a government.”

However, commentators agree that the challenge will now be the concessions that Ardern made to Peters and his older voting base. They will have found common ground on trying to curtail excess immigration and likely implementing a capital gains tax to curb the cost of housing. However, Ardern also wanted to explore a “water tax” on companies using irrigated water, mainly for agriculture. Peters, who also has a large rural voting base, was opposed to it. That plan seems to have been dropped.

Fairfax political reporter Vernon Small said regardless of the concessions the result would lead to “the biggest change of economic direction since the reforms that started 33 years back in 1984.”

Tracy Watkins called the concessions “the price of power.”

“It was a price Jacinda Ardern was prepared to pay, and one that Bill English judged as too high. Over the coming days and hours we will find out more about what finally tipped Winston Peters hand in Labour’s favor. But for now we know enough. After days of hard ball negotiation, and talks that Peters dragged out till the 11th hour, Ardern just wanted it more than English.”

Right wing commentator Mike Hosking called the whole deal “a mess” and one that promised to be a “tumultuous ride.”

He also hoped that English would not quit.

“Mainly because he didn’t lose, he just didn’t get picked. And that’s the madness of MMP.”


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New Zealand
Charles Anderson is a New Zealand-based editor with WikiTribune. His work has appeared in the International New York Times, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald and National Geographic Traveller.

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29 March 2018

Talk for Story "Developing: New Zealand’s new prime minister Jacinda Ardern marks first shift to the left in a decade"

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  1. Rewrite

    Have updated now with more commentary/context etc

  2. Rewrite

    One last thought: Other places are calling her the youngest PM ever. We say 160 years, suggesting that there was somebody younger way back in the day.
    A quick look at Wikipedia shows a long line of old-looking white guys, but I don’t have time to do the math. Is she youngest ever?

    1. Rewrite

      160 years ago there was another prime minister who was the same age but slightly younger. so we are correct

      1. Rewrite
      1. Rewrite

        If it was the youngest prime minster in the world then yes, – we refer to her being NZ’s youngest.

  3. Rewrite

    Yikes. Taking a look now and fixing. Thanks for flagging.

  4. Rewrite

    Just noticed that her name is rendered “Ardern” in head and lead, and “Adern” in several other places.

  5. Rewrite

    Hi, is there a way to avoid the “leader/lead” echo in the headline? And are we following AP style, which would render “Labour” as “Labor”?

    1. Rewrite

      Aha. Great point. Do you want to take a stab at changing headline?

      1. Rewrite

        I’ll write it if you can plug it in:

        New Zealand’s new prime minister marks first shift to the left in a decade

        or something like that

        1. Rewrite

          I would suggest that ‘Labour’ is correct as it is a proper noun rather than a noun. It’s the name of the party. The headline is done for SEO reasons but I’ll amend to accommodate your thoughts Pete.

  6. Rewrite

    Love the writing. Wish we had a bit more context // quote from an expert. How are the papers playing it in NZ? Any headlines or columnists weighing in?

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